On August 12, 2021, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City of New Orleans Health Department announced updated Guidelines for COVID-19 Reopening, which require individuals to provide proof of “having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine” or “evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before entry” in order to access certain indoor establishments. These indoor facilities include: (1) bars, restaurants, and breweries; (2) gyms, group fitness centers, and individual fitness classes; and (3) entertainment and performance venues, such as indoor sports stadiums, concert halls, event spaces, pool halls, bowling alleys, arcades, adult live performance venues, casinos, racetracks, and video poker establishments. The restrictions went into effect on August 16, 2021; however, enforcement will reportedly be suspended until August 23, 2021.

Eligible Individuals

The updated guidelines apply to “all individuals who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” and so, consistent with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the restrictions do not apply to children who are 11 years of age and younger. The New Orleans mayoral website explicitly includes employees in its definition of individuals covered by the guidelines.

Required Proof

According to the updated guidelines, an individual can provide proof of vaccination by showing an original CDC vaccination card or a digital picture or photocopy of both sides of the card. Individuals may also show an electronic record of COVID-19 vaccination through the LA Wallet smartphone app or an equivalent electronic record provided by another state.

Enforcement

Pursuant to Louisiana law and City of New Orleans regulations, any violation of these guidelines is subject to a penalty of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of several months (Louisiana state law provides for “confine[ment] in the parish jail for not more than six months” while the New Orleans City Code authorizes “imprisonment for not more than five months”).

The guidelines state that additional enforcement measures “may include, but are not limited to, prohibiting a business from offering take-out services, revocation of a business’s ability to open under these guidelines, revocation of any special event or live entertainment permits, revocation of certificates of registration, misdemeanor charges for owners, managers, and/or staff, and cessation of electrical service to the business,” as well as revocation of alcohol permits. Finally, the guidelines state that “[t]hese emergency orders will be strictly enforced.”

Key Takeaways

All businesses in New Orleans may want to consider whether any aspect of their operations are subject to these new requirements and whether to develop updated COVID-19 procedures for affected employees and customers. This is especially true for employers in industries that fall within those explicitly listed by the updated guidelines, such as hotels with restaurant, bar, catering, and event staff. The applicability of the guidelines is less clear for employees such as front desk staff or housekeeping. According to the updated guidelines, the underlying purpose of the vaccine mandate is to slow the transmission of COVID-19, particularly in crowded places or places of public accommodation that “feature or routinely allow for higher-risk interactions among patrons and staff.” Therefore employers may want to consider mandating employees who regularly interact with customers, such as front desk staff, to be vaccinated. In fact, the updated guidelines permit businesses outside of those specifically listed to “issu[e] vaccination and testing requirements for their staff and patrons.”

In addition to designating which employees are covered by the mandate, employers may want to consider updating their flyers, posters, fact sheets, or other materials to comply with federal, state, and local guidance; maintaining legally compliant records of workers’ vaccination or testing status (or any applicable exemptions); and training employees on how to screen individuals upon arrival to their premises in accordance with the mayor’s most recent guidelines.

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.