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 on Wednesday.
The postponement of the March 17 parade adds to the roster of events and holidays upended around the world by the spreading infection. Chicago, Boston, and even the Irish capital of Dublin, have cancelled St. Patrick's Day parades.
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.
“While I know the parade organizers did not make this decision lightly, public health experts agree that one of the most effective ways to contain the spread of the virus is to limit large gatherings and close contacts, and I applaud the parade's leadership for working cooperatively with us," Cuomo said in a statement.
The governor's statement did not say when this year's parade will take place, if at all. But Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted late in the night that he promises the parade will go on, “whether it’s in the heat of summer or on a clear fall day."
The coronavirus has spurred quarantines, lockdowns and other measures in spots around the globe. And it has sunk annual events from Lunar New Year festivities in China to the South by Southwest music, film and tech festival in Austin, Texas.
The New York City metropolitan area has been home to one of the largest outbreaks in the U.S., with many cases linked to one community in the suburb of New Rochelle.
In Chicago, the city'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.
The mayor of Savannah, Georgia, later announced that city's 196-year-old St. Patrick’s Day parade, scheduled for Tuesday, and a weekend festival had been called off as well.
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, Dallas, San Francisco and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 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.
Mayor Van Johnson told a news conference he knew the decision to cancel would be unpopular with many. Nobody from the private group that organizes the annual parade attending the mayor's announcement. Bars, restaurants and other businesses had already stocked up on extra beer, food and gaudy green souvenirs in anticipation of the busy holiday.
“You’ve got a lot of people who rely on that money,” said Melissa Swanson, owner of The Rail Pub in Savannah’s downtown historic district. “It’s part of your business plan.”
In New York, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has a long history, which began in 1762. It's one of the world’s largest Irish heritage festivities, featuring so many marchers that it takes them about six hours to finish the 1.8-mile (2.4-kilometer) route.
The event was a gay rights flashpoint in the 1990s as organizers excluded openly LGBT groups from marching, a stance that sparked protests, legal challenges and some boycotts by politicians. Organizers began easing the prohibition in 2015, and more LGBT groups have joined the lineup since then.
Associated Press Writers Russ Bynum contributed to this report from Savannah, Georgia and Don Babwin contributed from Chicago.
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