New Orleans Jazz Fest Canceled Due to COVID-19

New Orleans Jazz Fest
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Jackson, Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty, Pete Murano, Dan Oestreicher and Joey Peebles perform during the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 50th Anniversary at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 5, 2019 in New Orleans.

The 2020 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was officially canceled Thursday, the latest economic and entertainment industry casualty in Louisiana’s fight to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.

Festival organizers had already postponed the festival, which usually spans two spring weekends, until the fall. But they announced on the festival website that they would not attempt this year to hold the event. The festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, draws more than 400,000 visitors to the Fair Grounds Race Course for music on multiple stages, a variety of cuisines at dozens of food booths and an arts and crafts fair.

The plan now is to hold the 2021 festival during its traditional time, the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell earlier this week urged cancellation of major city festivals. The Essence Festival, usually held in New Orleans in July, has also canceled for this year.

The announcement came as Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the creation of an 18-member commission to help the state plot a course for eventually reopening businesses shuttered during the fight against the coronavirus.

The Democratic governor’s announcement came as the state’s COVID-19 death toll climbed by 53. More than 1,100 deaths have been attributed to the disease in Louisiana. But, the number of people hospitalized, and the number requiring ventilators dropped Thursday, the latest indicators of a positive trend in the state’s fight.

Edwards said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, will be among those serving on the Resilient Louisiana Commission. The commission will be led by state Secretary of Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and health care consultant Terrie Sterling.

“We’re not going to get back to normal until we have a vaccine and some effective therapeutic treatments,” Edwards said at a morning, live-streamed news conference in Baton Rouge. “But, we’re not going to wait until then to start reopening the economy.”

Still, Edwards made clear that the reopening won’t be immediate. He pointed to statistics indicating stay-at-home orders and business closures have slowed the spread of COVID-19 and avoided overwhelming state hospitals.

“This is not the time to let up,” he said.

Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican attended the news conference and agreed with the governor. “We’re not talking about picking a choice between safety and economic recovery,” Scalise added. “You can do both and we have to do both.”

More than 1,100 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in Louisiana — 53 were added to the death toll Thursday. But the state has seen encouraging signs in combating the virus, with slowing rates of new infections and new hospitalizations, and fewer patients on ventilators. Edwards credits people remaining physically distanced from others.

By Thursday, the state had more than 22,000 known cases. and the number has consistently increased as testing has become more available. Officials say there are signs of hope in slowing rates of new infections and new hospitalizations, and fewer patients on ventilators.

The number hospitalized fell slightly Thursday, to 1,914 from 1,943 the day before. It was over 2,000 last week. The number needing ventilators as of Thursday was 396, down from 425 on Wednesday and well below last week’s totals.

Still, Edwards has repeatedly said social distancing must continue to keep the numbers down. In New Orleans, which has more than 5,700 cases, Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Tuesday extended a stay-at-home order until May 16. It had been scheduled to end on April 30.

Edwards on Thursday pointed to charts showing hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the state health department’s Region 1, which includes hard hit New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. He said there were 790 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients this week. Projections were that there would have been 3000 such patients had stay-at-home orders not been implemented, Edwards said.

For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes symptoms such as high fever and a dry cough that resolve in several weeks. But some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can suffer severe symptoms that can be fatal.