Rules are made to be broken, or at least postponed by a week. That seemed to be the credo at some Crescent City establishments on Monday as the mayor’s Modified Phase 3 coronavirus mandates went into effect.
The new regulations require the public to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to enter bars, restaurants, casinos, concert halls, gyms and a dozen other non-essential venues.
But since the new rules wouldn’t be enforced for a week, a certain laissez-faire attitude cropped up here and there.
Michelle Gonzalez popped into the recently opened Morning Call Coffee Stand on Canal Boulevard a little after 10 a.m. for a pick-me-up. She produced her official vaccination card, “’Cause I know we’re supposed to,” she said.
But Gonzalez needn’t have bothered. The Morning Call staff wasn’t checking; instead, they posted a sign near the door that read: “No Vaccine? No Problem. Plenty Seating Outside. Thanks for cooperating.”
“We understand it (the contagion) is real,” Morning Call co-owner Mickael Hennessey said. “We want people to be safe.” But, he said, he thinks it’s unfair that the city’s plan puts him in charge of public health screening.
“What? We’re going to be fined because we don’t want to play policeman?” he asked rhetorically. “Do we have to hire a security guard? I can’t afford to pay a fine for somebody who slips through our dragnet.”
Hennessy said he thinks everyone in town now knows that they need to be inoculated to enter a restaurant, and he’s willing to trust them to make a responsible choice. “We respect the citizens to do the right thing,” he said. “If you don’t have a vax, sit outside.”
Meanwhile, at another morning magnet, the Ruby Slipper Café on Magazine Street, the staff adhered to the mayor’s mandate, scrupulously checking customers’ COVID credentials at the door. Those with proof of vaccine could be seated anywhere; those without had to wait for an outdoor table.
Maria Eugenia Rivera, who was visiting with her family from San Juan, Puerto Rico, said she approved of the rules, even if it delayed breakfast by a few extra minutes. “I believe in the vaccine, and I believe everyone should get one,” she said. “I believe it (the mandate) is a nice way of saying, ‘Get vaccinated.’”
The staff at the Downtown Fitness Center in the Canal Place office building also checked proof of vaccination before admitting weightlifters and stationary bikers.
Joe Vezina, a patron who was leaving the gym, said he’d presented his vaccination proof, but “The guy behind me didn’t have one, so they turned him away.”
Vezina said he didn’t really buy into the whole vaccine thing, but for the sake of convenience, he “gave in to Big Brother” and got his first shot on Friday.
“I think it’s a worldwide conspiracy,” he said.
Glenn Gottlieb, visiting from Los Angeles, who was also exiting the fitness club, said he’d been checked for his vaccination credentials and appreciated the safety measure. “They asked me for card; I think it’s the wise thing to do,” he said.
Across Canal Street at Harrah’s Casino, cards and iPhones were being examined, and explanations of the new mandate were being issued, but it didn’t appear any gamblers were being turned away.
At a busy entrance an affable greeter asked those who could not produce proof of vaccination to stand aside while those with documentation could pass.
Then the greeter explained to the card-less customers that they’d be allowed entry this time, but by next Monday, there’d be no exceptions.
Payton Clements said he’d been allowed into the casino without proof of inoculation, but was warned that if he didn’t get a shot or a nose swab in the coming days, he couldn’t come back in. “They said, no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he said.
Clements said he’d probably opt for a test instead of a shot, “until they force me.”
Some onlookers may have viewed the vaccination rules without enforcement as a recipe for confusion. But tour guide Libby Bollino, who led a group of approximately 30 tourists on a bus trip around the city Monday morning, saw it as a “grace period.”
It’s a time “for adjustment,” she said, “a gentler, more New Orleans way of doing it.”
But, she said, the crackdown was inevitable. “It’s coming,” she said.
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