NEW ORLEANS — Live indoor music can resume in New Orleans beginning this weekend, city officials announced Wednesday, but dancing will remain prohibited, while venues, performers and audiences will be under strict requirements to employ measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The new rules take effect Friday morning, in response to a decline of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the city. It was not immediately clear how many bars and other live music venues will be able to meet them and begin hosting live entertainment again in a city where music is ingrained in cultural history and vital to tourism.
Brian Greenberg, general manager of Tipitina's, said he thinks the historic music club and bar may be able to pull it off, although not right away. "We have a floor plan that we've already mapped out," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We're a big room, so we have that advantage."
Greenberg added that he and the bar's owners and staff still need to review the extensive regulations, which are based on guidelines already in effect statewide. They require mask wearing, social distancing, proper ventilation and also include details on when singers are required to wear face coverings and how trumpet players should empty their spit valves.
Dancing is ruled out under the regulations, which also note that patrons must "refrain from cheering or singing along."
"Each club, institution, is really going to have to look at those and then check with the state fire marshal," city health director Jennifer Avegno said at a news conference with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. "They're not overly onerous. They can be done."
Rachael Arrington, a manager at the Maple Leaf Bar, a neighborhood music joint that hasn't opened since March 16, 2020, says the club cannot meet the requirements. The stage is narrow, posing a problem in keeping performers 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart. "That's definitely going to be an issue," Arrington said, adding that for the time being the business will focus on outdoor concerts and events sponsored with other venues.
Live music has not been allowed at indoor events in New Orleans in almost a year, since the city became an early hot spot in the COVID-19 pandemic. Bars have been under on-again, off-again shutdown orders and efforts to prevent the spread of the disease resulted in a virtual shutdown of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, when the thoroughfare of restaurants and entertainment venues would ordinarily have been crowded with revelers.
The disease is blamed for 769 deaths in the city, so far.
Limits are still in effect. St. Patrick's Day parades and block parties remain forbidden in the city even as officials ease limitations on crowds. Starting Friday, indoor gatherings will be limited to 75 people and outdoor gatherings to 150. Most businesses in the city will be open at 75% capacity, while bars and gyms will operate at 50%.
Cantrell and Avegno both stressed that social distancing and masking are still important and vaccinations are vital as they become available.
Cantrell said more than 21% of city residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine and about 12% are fully vaccinated.