Fans attending New Orleans Saints home games will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test from the previous 72 hours, according to a new mandate announced Thursday by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Fans will also be required to wear masks when they aren't eating or drinking. However, the city and the Saints are still allowing full attendance inside the Caesars Superdome.
"We are not limiting capacity. We've got to get our people vaccinated," said Cantrell, who pointed to rises in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout the state of Louisiana.
New Orleans is believed to be the first NFL city to have such a mandate in place for fans attending games -- starting with the Saints' second preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday, Aug. 23.
Both the Saints and the NFL released statements that began by stressing that their top priority remains the health and safety of fans and everyone associated with the game.
"We are committed to doing everything we can in the current environment to protect your health and safety while at the same time providing the best game day experience in the NFL," the Saints said. "We understand some will be frustrated, as are we, that we find ourselves in this position. We, as a community, have overcome so much in our history and come back stronger every time. Together, we can defeat this virus and return to living, celebrating and winning in the way we always have. We need you in that number -- both on game day and in defeating this virus.
"We remain optimistic that, with our community's help and as vaccination rates increase, these restrictions will no longer be necessary as the season progresses."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy added: "As we did last year, the league and clubs will continue to follow the latest guidance from local, state and federal public health authorities, including the CDC, with whom we are in regular contact. We are planning on full stadiums across the league this year but will remain flexible and adaptable as necessary. Like last season, there may be different fan experiences depending on the current situation in the local markets working in conjunction with public health authorities."
New Orleans' mandate also covers bars, restaurants, breweries, gyms, fitness centers, sports complexes, concerts, event spaces, casinos and racetracks, among other venues. New Orleans also recently canceled its popular Jazz & Heritage Festival, which had been rescheduled for October. But Cantrell stressed that she is not in favor of a "shutdown."
"Unlike this time last year, we have a tool that we did not have -- a vaccine," Cantrell said. "And this is our only way out of this virus."