NEW YORK >> The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been postponed for the first time in its 258-year history because of coronavirus concerns, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today.
The postponement of the March 17 parade adds to the roster of events and holidays upended around the world by the spreading infection. The New York parade honoring Irish heritage dates back longer than the United States and draws tens of thousands of marchers and throngs of spectators to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said while the risk of transmission might be lower in an outdoor gathering, health experts had urged him to call it off.
New York City officials had held off, saying they weren’t certain that a large outdoor event — as opposed to a more intimate setting — posed enough of a risk of spreading the virus to warrant cancellation. But officials had noted that they would keep weighing the question as more information developed.
In Honolulu, Matt McConnell of The Society of the Friends of St. Patrick Hawaii said the group is still planning to hold its 53rd Annual Waikiki St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s slated to start at noon Tuesday and wind its way from Kalakaua Avenue in front of Fort DeRussey through Waikiki to the bandstand at Kapiolani Park. The 90-minute parade generally attracts about 800 participants, including community organizations, marching bands, military groups, and school children.
St. Patrick’s Day parades in some other big cities, including Chicago, Boston and even the Irish capital of Dublin, were called off earlier.
Chicago’s mayor said she couldn’t risk the kind of gathering that scientists warn could hasten the further spread of COVID-19.
“Like cities across the nation, we concluded that having a parade at this time posed an unnecessary risk to the public’s health,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters at a news conference with a supportive Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
A group of business leaders in Savannah, Georgia, later announced that city’s 196-year-old parade St. Patrick’s Day, scheduled for March 17, and a weekend festival won’t happen. The city’s Tourism Leadership Council released a brief statement saying the celebration had been “postponed to a later date not yet determined.”
Chicago’s parade had been scheduled for Saturday, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.
“We all know what the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations mean to the city of Chicago,” said Pritzker, a Democrat. “Because of what we’ve seen nationally, and across the world, of the increased risk of large gatherings, this was the right call.”
Indeed, it was deemed the right call in cities from Boston and Philadelphia to Denver and San Francisco. The cities of Dublin — the one in Ohio and the one in Ireland — also pulled the plugs on their parades.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The cancellations come as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbs. In the U.S., the total has topped 1,000. Worldwide, more than 119,000 have been infected, and more than 4,200 have died. Lightfoot’s announcement came a day after officials announced that the number of cases in Illinois had climbed by eight to 19.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Savannah’s weekend festivities and March 17 parade draw crowds approaching a half million people, potentially more than tripling the size of the 146,000-resident city for a few days. Started by Irish immigrants to Georgia’s oldest city in 1824, the March 17 parade has ballooned into a massive street party that’s Savannah’s most profitable tourism draw.
In Chicago, the cancellation of Saturday’s parade is bad news for the restaurants that usually are packed with revelers all day and well into the night.
“For us it’s devastating,” said Kieran Aherne, regional manager of Fado Irish Pub, four blocks from the Chicago River that ordinarily would be dyed green. “Saturday is bigger here than St. Patrick’s Day and this will be a six-figure loss for us.”
In a news release, Lightfoot’s office said the city will work with organizers to reschedule the parade. But Aherne, who said businesses like his have already taken a financial hit with recent trade show cancellations, thinks such talk is just so much spilled beer.
“This isn’t like some charity event that you can reschedule and double back,” he said. “Once you get into the middle of April, that ship has sailed.”
Star-Advertiser reporter Allison Schaefers contributed to this story.