Scoot: Mayor Cantrell says N.O. restaurant patrons must surrender personal information


New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced a more realistic plan for contact tracing in the city - but many are still not happy with the plan.

During a recent conference call with state officials - Mayor Cantrell said that every business in New Orleans would be required to keep records of everyone entering their business. That led to a discussion on my talk show about how businesses, like grocery stores and big box stores, would track every customer. The Mayor said that the city would tell businesses to create a method for tracking all employees and customers and that more details would be forthcoming.

At her press conference, yesterday, Mayor Cantrell announced that restaurants would be among the businesses allowed to open this Saturday, May 16 - but it would be with mandatory reservations to track each patron. Walk-up patrons will be required to give the restaurant their contact information.

Cantrell’s announcement was immediately met with skepticism and criticism. Some expressed the concern that every customer would not be willing to surrender their information, and that would lead to a reluctance to return to dining in New Orleans. Some potential customers said taking and holding their personal information was an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

The fact that New Orleans restaurants will be allowed to open with only 25% capacity is a huge obstacle - adding the requirement to take and hold tracking information on patrons for 21 days could make the reopening of New Orleans restaurants more problematic.

We should be thankful that Mayor Cantrell’s premature announcement that every business in the city would have to take and hold tracking information from every customer changed to just restaurants, but there will still be an instinctive rejection of the idea of taking information for the purpose of tracking customers.

Doesn’t the idea of making reservations and giving information for the purpose of tracking sound worse than it is? If you pay with a debit or credit card - wouldn’t the restaurant have information to track you?

I am a big proponent of privacy - but if contact tracing is a legitimate way to manage the spread of the coronavirus - then maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to reject the idea on the surface.

Let’s face it - we are all tracked more than we would like to believe. Your cell phone is a device which can be tracked. Any discount card you use is another method of tracking the businesses you frequent.

Going out to eat is a choice, and we have always been subject to the rules and standards of each restaurant. If you don’t want to give any information to a restaurant then don’t go out to eat. What many New Orleans restaurants fear is that customers will choose to dine at restaurants in nearby parishes.

Whether New Orleans really needs to be treated differently from Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard and every other parish in the state is up for debate. But there has been a pattern of Mayor Cantrell making announcements prematurely on a big stage. Are those premature predictions motivated by data or a desire to express a sense of power?

As she has said at recent press conferences - let the data - let science dictate actions.