New Orleans mayor, health department sued over COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Individuals 5 and older must show proof of at least two vaccine doses to enter certain businesses

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More than 100 plaintiffs who live and work in the New Orleans area are suing Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city's health department over its COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates.

The city last month announced that by Feb. 1, all individuals ages 5 and older would have to show proof of at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine or a negative PCR or antigen test to enter certain businesses, though a vaccine mandate went into effect for adults on Jan. 3. Additionally, all individuals 2 years old and older must wear masks indoors.

"The people of New Orleans and our children have endured nearly two years of unprecedented control from our so-called city leaders," attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue, a partner at the New Orleans-based firm Rodriguez & Arcuri, told Fox News Digital of the complaint. "What started as a temporary means to protect the community from unknown risks of a virus has turned into a circus of mandates that no longer make sense to any rational person. Enough is enough. People all over our great State who live, work, and worship in New Orleans are united in this effort to take back control of their lives and families."

The complaint filed by Rodrigue & Arcuri and attorney Jimmy Faircloth of Faircloth, Melton, Sobel & Bash LLC, on behalf of more than 100 plaintiffs — and counting — accuses the mayor and the health department, including New Orleans Health Director Jennifer Avengno, of causing "social, economic and cultural harm" through ‘authoritarian actions under the pretext of an emergency without end." 

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The lawsuit accuses defendants of violating plaintiffs' privacy rights and denying plaintiffs' equal protection under New Orleans law.

The complaint filed in an Orleans Parish Civil District Court includes data showing how the omicron variant of COVID-19 has proven its ability to evade immunity offered by vaccines. While the vaccine prevents severe reactions to the virus — particularly in the elderly and those with underlying conditions — U.S. cases have spiked to record highs in recent weeks as the virus infects both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Residents gather at a bar during a power outage after Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg)

Residents gather at a bar during a power outage after Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg)

"Simply put, the risk posed by Omicron to most people—especially children—is de minimis, far below the risks posed by many other diseases and activities of daily life," the lawsuit states. "For example, the risk to a New Orleans resident or visitor of injury in an automobile or of being the victim of violent crime…is greater than the risk of severe illness from the Omicron variant."

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It also states that "prior to the rise of the Delta Variant, it was wrongly assumed that the COVID Vaccines would protect against both infection and transmission of the disease, like traditional vaccines such as those developed for small pox, measles, mumps, chicken pox, and rubella."

The complaint goes on to list a series of mandates and directives imposed by city officials over the last two years related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, as Fox 8 New Orleans first reported.

Debbie Bonnett (L) with Castellon Pharmacy administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to a person in a popup vaccination clinic at Maple Leaf Bar on August 14, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Debbie Bonnett (L) with Castellon Pharmacy administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to a person in a popup vaccination clinic at Maple Leaf Bar on August 14, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The New Orleans Department of Health did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News Digital. The mayor will be holding a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is threatening legal action over the city's mandates, which he says are destroying businesses and killing jobs. "I am closely monitoring the lawsuit and exploring legal avenues to support the rule of law and the freedom of citizens," the attorney general wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

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COVID-19 cases reached record highs last month, with the U.S. averaging about 700,000 per day since early January. Average daily deaths have remained lower than they were between March and April 2020, and between November and February 2021. The U.S. is recording an average of just under 2,000 deaths per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says unvaccinated individuals are four times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 15 times more likely to die of the virus, though unvaccinated individuals over the age of 65 have a much higher risk of severe reaction to COVID-19 than younger, unvaccinated individuals.