New Orleans’ initial phase approach indicates no large gatherings before a vaccine, “widespread immunity”

Updated: May. 3, 2020 at 9:59 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - With less than two weeks left in the New Orleans stay-at-home order, the administration released its first steps for reopening parts of the city. As it stands now, whether to hold the city’s most notable events may depend on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know everyone is eager to reopen, no doubt about it,” Mayor Latoya Cantrell said.

Mayor Cantrell says these last two weeks of the stay-at-home mandate are crucial.

“It will, again, determine how prepared we are as a city to reopen, and reopen again in a phased approach,” Cantrell explained.

After the city's press conference Friday, Cantrell's administration released its initial, phased approach, noting it aligns with state and federal guidelines.

It includes public health milestones that must be met before the city eases restrictions. They include a decline in cases, increased testing, robust isolation and healthcare capacity.

“Those things are in place, which is great, but that’s like our safety net,” Dr. Bruce Wilson, M.D. said.

Wilson works at West Jefferson hospital and has a background in public health.

"If we say, 'okay, we checked all these boxes. Let's get to the goal line.' That's us running towards the goal line thinking we're going to score a touchdown but then getting fancy and not really taking charge of the goal at hand," Wilson explained. "Then getting captured by the defender, getting caught by the virus again."

Wilson says more data is needed and that means, more time, especially for a city slammed early on with the virus. He says that's why the city's plan doesn't have a timeline. Wilson says whether to proceed to the next phase will depend on how the community progresses.

The plan is to ease restrictions, limit occupancy and wear a mask in phase one. Phase two looks similar to the first phase but allows more “medium risk operations”.

Large gatherings are still prohibited and, right now, Wilson says it is difficult to even define one.

" If we’re saying groups of 10 or less and they’re doing fine, we get to groups of 20 and they’re doing fine or fine, maybe we find a number. But if we just go in full force and gather hundreds of people, people are going to get sick," Wilson said.

Whatever they're determined to be, large gatherings will not be allowed until the final phase, Phase Three. That's widespread immunity or vaccination.

Wilson says herd immunity, when there are enough people immune to prevent an outbreak, takes months to build. Officials still cannot agree when a vaccine will be available.

Wilson says the consequence of moving too quickly could be devastating.

“Let’s say Mardi Gras,” Wilson stated. “Those who aren’t immune will take it back to places that aren’t immune, then you’ll get larger pockets of the spread of the infection.”

Wilson says there's no right or wrong approach but, in this instance, it's best not to be first. He says if other states or parishes open sooner, New Orleans health officials can collect information based on their results.

“As we take a more staged approach, yes, it might have an effect on the economy, keeping things shut down. But in the long run, a lot of people being sick and a lot of people dying has an effect as well," Wilson explained. “So, we definitely want to avoid that.”

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