Mayor LaToya Cantrell is caught between a rock and a hard spot.
By her own admission, the citizens and businesses of New Orleans have done a pretty good job of following the city’s ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions. Tourists, on the other hand, come to New Orleans to party — and party they will regardless of any “rules” they consider arbitrary and capricious.
The sheer number of visitors traveling to the Crescent City has continued to increase over the past few months – especially on the weekends. Unfortunately, some do not wear masks. Tourism leaders expect that Mardi Gras weekend will create the highest hotel occupancy since last March and lead to additional infections. Although Dr. Anthony Fauci is telling Americans “to lay low and cool it” instead of attending or holding Super Bowl parties this weekend, expecting people not to flock to New Orleans for Mardi Gras is unrealistic.
Amid an Epiphany Day marred by an unanticipated insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the state’s highest COVID rates, 87-year-old Isiah Steele received his long-awaited COVID-19 vaccination at New Orleans East Hospital. “I am so blessed to have gotten this vaccine,” said Steele, before lighting a candle at the Shrine of St. Jude. “I will sleep a little easier tonight.”
Steele has been locked down in his family home since mid-March, where he has fretted about his grandson, a senior soon to graduate from LSU, and his caregiver daughter, who goes to work almost every day despite the pandemic. “While I worry about their health and safety, I am mourning the loss of a year of my life at a time when I don’t have too many years left,” he said.
A chronic voter, Steele is also troubled by how ugly and divisive politics have become. “I pray that our elected leaders will seek consensus, get the virus under control and everybody back working again.
With masks creatively incorporated into costumes, 25 members of the Phunny Phorty Phellows boarded a streetcar Wednesday at the Willow Street Car Barn for their traditional Twelfth Night trip down St. Charles Avenue. Since 1981, the krewe has heralded the beginning of the New Orleans Carnival season. Following COVID-19 restrictions, the 25 participants represented about 25 percent of the group’s usual size, the public was not allowed inside the streetcar barn to send them off, and crowds along the route were asked to wear masks and keep to small socially distanced groups.
The first of the “house floats” that will be dotting our urban landscape this Carnival season has already made an appearance Uptown. Sponsored by the Krewe of Red Beans and called “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist,” the idea is to put those out-of-work artists — usually frantically designing and painting floats this time of year — back to work. With parades canceled, many Mardi Gras float artists found themselves suddenly unemployed. One of those artists, Caroline Thomas, proposed the idea to the Krewe of Red Beans to create a crowd-funding site to finance house decorations that could look like floats. The initiative helps keep our Mardi Gras artists afloat while creating a Carnival atmosphere in our neighborhoods.
I was walking my dog early one morning recently when I saw a man squatting down to look through the louver shutters of a home across the street. When he saw me watching, he scampered away. Did I foil a burglary? Possibly.
COVID-19 has created great unrest in New Orleans and it shows as a wide variety of crimes continue to increase. As should be expected, citizens in almost every neighborhood are frustrated and afraid for their safety. Like COVID-19 itself, we can only assume crime will get worse before it gets better.
Sure, we can attribute many homicides to gang rivalries — but not all the car break-ins and other property crimes, muggings, domestic violence, and even yesterday’s theft of an Amazon truck.
Behind the glittering offerings at Symmetry Jewelers lies a pandemic story despite how very busy they are and have been.
Like other non-essential businesses, Symmetry Jewelers closed down when it was mandated on March 22. They reopened a couple of months later, on the first day it was allowed. They bought masks for staff and customers alike, installed sanitizer stations and social-distancing markers, and developed a regimen for regular sterilizing. And like other local businesses, they had to register with the city to be permitted to open up. During those two lockdown months, the business took out a line of credit to pay employees while they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program.
This is the third Silver Lining, an Uptown Messenger series on locally owned small businesses that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. For almost five decades, Uptown Restoration has been repairing furniture at the corner of Zimpel and Cherokee streets in the University section of Uptown New Orleans.
Though off the beaten path, the repair shop does a steady business. But this year, it’s been especially busy. Not long after the lockdown in March, more customers began showing up with broken furniture and pieces that needed to be restored or refinished. “With everyone staying at home, and many working from home, they had the time to attend to repairs they had been meaning to do for a long time,” said Uptown Restoration proprietor Bobby Franks.
For a while, Franks had to rent storage space for the backlog of furniture in the queue to be worked on.
Researchers from Tulane University have developed a 15-minute COVID-19 test that is read by a smartphone to address the need to expand testing capacity in community-based settings. This test uses the same CRISPR-based approach that the researchers have submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization. Rapid PCR tests typically use nasal swab samples and are performed in laboratory settings by highly trained individuals using sophisticated equipment. The saliva-based COVID-19 test, which doesn’t require lab processing, could rapidly expand testing capacity in outpatient clinics, community testing sites and other locations. The assay developed by researchers at Tulane detects SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA in saliva to diagnose COVID-19 and is more sensitive than PCR-based tests, the current gold standard for COVID-19 diagnosis.
This is the second Silver Lining, an Uptown Messenger series on locally owned small businesses that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other New Orleans businesses considered essential, the Urban Roots Garden Center did not have to close down during the COVID-19 lockdown. It was considered to provide essential services because they sell edibles and fruiting plants. Also, like other businesses in Uptown Messenger’s “Silver Linings” series, this one does not rely on the tourist trade or out-of-town visitors. At the beginning of the pandemic, Urban Roots offered a new service: curbside pick-up.
When The Delachaise first opened at 3442 St. Charles Ave. 17 years ago, it had a patch of grass out front where owner Evan Hayes hoped to build an outdoor space. Then 10 years ago, Entergy tore up that section of the avenue to install a new gas line, and Hayes used the opportunity to pave the area and create a patio. “That doubled our business,” he said.