Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade canceled over coronavirus

  • St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke President Marc Joyce, left, Board of Health Director Sean Gonsalves, Mayor Alex Morse, Police Chief Manuel “Manny” Febo and Fire Chief Jeffrey Przekopowski hold a news conference Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2020 4:47:05 PM

HOLYOKE — This year’s St. Patrick’s Parade and Road Race were canceled by the city Tuesday amid growing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus — the first time in history the parade has been called off, according to a top parade official.

In a press conference held at City Hall, Mayor Alex Morse said the decision to cancel what would have been the 69th annual parade was “not made lightly.” Morse said the call was made following a meeting of the Mayor’s Emergency Management Advisory Council Tuesday morning.

“As many of you know, over 400,000 people from all over the world come to Holyoke for the road race and the parade, and it would be irresponsible of us to carry on with these events as scheduled,” Morse said.

According to St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke President Marc E. Joyce, there are no concrete plans to reschedule either the parade or the road race. Before they were canceled, the parade was scheduled for March 22 and the 10K road race for the day before. Joyce said that, to his knowledge, this is the first time the parade, which began in 1952, has been canceled.

“After more information and listening to all of the professionals here today, there’s no question in my mind, unfortunately, that the right decision is to cancel the parade and to cancel the road race,” said Joyce, who told reporters that he came to the press conference with “a very heavy heart.”

The decision to cancel comes as health officials across the globe are warning of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December and so far has infected 116,000 people and killed 4,000 across the globe. As of Tuesday, there were 92 presumptive positive and confirmed positive cases of the new coronavirus in Massachusetts.

Holyoke is not the only city canceling St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Parades in Boston,Hartford and Dublin have all been either canceled or postponed. On Tuesday, amid growing concerns over the coronavirus, Massachusetts declared a state of emergency.

Morse said there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Holyoke and that the state Department of Public Health has said the risk of the virus to Massachusetts residents remains low.

But even with this in mind, Morse said control measures such as enhanced sanitary education, social distancing, work-from-home policies and the postponement of large gatherings can potentially mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Lowering and/or delaying the epidemic peak is a critical tool that allows for enhanced preparation locally and statewide,” Morse said.

The mayor also noted that the city’s most vulnerable populations are less able to take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure.

“That would be even more the case throughout parade weekend,” he said.

The meeting of the Mayor’s Emergency Management Advisory Council was attended by the police and fire chiefs, members of the Board of Health, other public health and safety officials and Joyce.

Sean Gonsalves, the director of the city’s Board of Health, said that one of the board’s main concerns was the parade’s crowd. According to Gonsalves, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that social distancing of 6 feet can help control the spread of the virus.

“During the parade and at large events, people are going to crowd into tents, they are going to crowd into bars and restaurants and even homes,” Gonsalves said. “Families are going to visit from out of town … we are concerned that that is going to increase the instances or the chance that there would be an additional spread in the city.”

Fire Chief Jeffrey Przekopowski said supply chains for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have been diminished due to the spread, a factor he said played into why the events were canceled. Police Chief Manuel “Manny” Febo said his concern was “possibly exposing 100% of all police resources in the city in a 48-hour period.”

“If we have 30, 40 or 50% of the police department that goes down a week or two after the parade, it becomes a real problem for us, and it becomes a problem for the safety of the citizens in Holyoke,” Febo said.

Though he said his current focus is on public health, Morse said he planned on starting conversations with state officials for “potential options or economic stimulus for those who are negatively impacted,” citing restaurants and bars that rely heavily on business during the parade weekend.

Joyce said that, for now, the Bishop’s Mass at St. Jerome’s Church at 5:30 p.m. on March 21, the John F. Kennedy Award Reception Dinner at the Log Cabin at 6 p.m. on the same night, and the Ambassador’s Breakfast on the morning of March 22 at the Holyoke Senior Center will continue, as will a wrap-up party for the committee the following Friday night.

The committee will meet in the next few days to see what it can “save or salvage.”

“I’m not happy about it, but I fully understand it,” Joyce said of the cancellation. “I think it’s the correct decision for the whole community, but I wish it didn’t happen during my year as president.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.
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