BILOXI — Plans are moving ahead to hold Mardi Gras parties and parades on the Mississippi coast despite a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious omicron variant.
Large gatherings are the surest way to transmit the illness, health officials say, so the area’s upcoming slate of parades, balls and Mardi Gras celebrations are likely to spread the virus, the Sun-Herald reported.
But the executive director of the Gulf Coast Carnival Association, Jennifer Schmidt, said “we’re moving forward with everything” with caution and daily monitoring, at least for now.
“We’ve got to get back to life, we can’t live in fear,” she said.
South Mississippi’s Mardi Gras festivities began Wednesday in Biloxi with the Twelfth Night Celebration, in which few people wore protective face masks as a crowd gathered at the city lighthouse.
“People on the Gulf Coast are all about Mardi Gras. We are so ready to get rid of this COVID and get back to normal. We are ready to return with all the balls and parades and fun and parties,” Coast Mardi Gras Museum Board Member Patrick Chubb told WXXV-TV.
While the celebrations in Mississippi aren’t nearly as large as the ones in nearby New Orleans or Mobile, Alabama, they still bring in visitors for the traditional wintertime event.
With more than 10,520 dead of COVID-19 in Mississippi, the state has the nation’s highest death rate from the illness, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has jumped by 5,680, an increase of 1,305 percent.
Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich is monitoring COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations but the city hasn’t canceled or postponed any Mardi Gras events so far, said spokesperson Cecilia Dobbs Walton.