As New Orleans proceeds through various stages of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Phase 2 of Louisiana’s plans prohibits any contact sports from being played. Three days before the Saints are set to open their 2020 season at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, however, the director of the New Orleans Health Department has confirmed the team will, in fact, kick off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend thanks to a workplace exemption sought through the state.

The rest of Louisiana is slated to enter Phase 3 of reopening plans on Friday, with contact sports — including football — likely to be included in permissible activities. New Orleans, however, will “stay in Phase 2 for an undetermined period of time,” according to Amie Just of The Times-Picayune. That’s why Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the Health Department director, revealed to reporters Thursday that the Saints will operate under the protection of the state exemption.

Avegno’s remarks came amid speculation that the Saints might not be permitted to take the field against the Buccaneers on Sunday, namely because New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell would not confirm one way or another Thursday whether high school football will commence in the area this fall. Cantrell’s top medical director also indicated that New Orleans was unaware of why or how Tulane University, which is inside the city, had been holding in-person practices in the lead-up to the 2020 season.

That said, Orleans Parish rules, which would’ve otherwise prevented the Saints from playing football both in Week 1 and beyond, only apply to the team on game days since the club’s practice facility is outside of city limits, according to Just.

The Saints will host Tampa Bay to start their season — without fans — at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday.


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