The plague stats were good last week locally, and the city loosened some restrictions, allowing people inside bars and for bigger outdoor gatherings. The weather changed as well, going from hovering around freezing to the mid-80s.
Mardi Gras, just two weeks ago, was a DIY fun neighborhood affair with bars and public places shuttered and locked and a heavy police presence to discourage group gatherings. After the holiday, things returned to plague time normal, with things open at seemingly 10% activity, and it was usually possible to find one or two music performances somewhere in the neighborhood if you were paying attention.
After the minor changes in rules on Friday, it was a disconcerting return to the before times. There were 12 shows a day on Frenchmen Street, outside and masked for the most part, with dancers vying with cars for space in the street. Other venues scheduled music in courtyards and porches, and the quest became finding the best music, not just the only music at any given time.
The Quarter was busy with family groups, party groups, tour groups, and a few locals roaming among the artists and the street musicians. People were out in their summer clothes showing off and seeking attention. The sheer press of a spring break crowd or the cruise ship transfer days was thankfully missing, but there were actual crowds to navigate. It was refreshingly normal to plan to avoid the French Quarter during the weekend and go visit with neighborhood friends over a fish fry or crawfish boil, and to see a favorite local musician or two.
The odd thing is that, despite the good statistics and the commensurate loosening of restrictions, not a lot has really changed except attitude. Vaccines remain in short supply and maddeningly difficult to get through normal channels. Some friends are traveling to other towns or states to get a jab, and others are bending the truth to become eligible, but it remains hard to see how to ethically get vaccinated in the core city. It is not even clear that vaccinated people or people with antibodies can’t spread the virus. I remain thankful that this plague is not as bad as it was feared it could have been early on, but some people get very sick and many are dead, and many more will die before this is over.
It remains reasonable on a personal level to limit social activity to outdoors and to mask in public, but these measures seem like more magical thinking(especially as the mask comes off to sit and eat or drink) than positive steps to reduce either personal or group risk. The level of activity in New Orleans over the weekend made me think that increasing official restrictions will be disregarded by more and more people as they seek entertainment and interaction. Perhaps we did make it through the plague year. It sure makes the city more fun.
The lid is off the pot. Let’s hope it doesn’t boil over.