The decision to cancel Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was made Tuesday night by organizers who were swayed after public health officials announced they had confirmed the city’s first case of the new coronavirus.
Michael J. Bradley Jr., the grand marshal of the parade who has also served as its director for nearly two decades, said Wednesday that he’s “100% at peace” with the decision, which to his knowledge marks the first time the parade has been entirely canceled.
He said after the Tuesday afternoon announcement of the first city case, the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association feared government officials would cancel the parade by the end of the week, and they wanted to get ahead of the situation.
“We think that it’s total overreaction by people, but if one person is sick right now and doesn’t know they have it and they march, then next week the headlines are ‘The parade caused this,’ ” Bradley, 63, of Havertown, said. “We would never recover from that negative publicity.”
The announcement to cancel the Sunday parade was made after a slew of other events had been canceled in the city and around the world as the new coronavirus spreads, solidifying itself as a global pandemic. More than a dozen people in Philadelphia and bordering counties have tested “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus, which causes flulike symptoms, and more are quarantined.
After Philadelphia city officials announced the first case, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley recommended people avoid gatherings of more than 5,000 people to tame the spread of the virus. City officials specifically asked potential parade-goers to stay home and watch the event on television.
But pressure mounted to cancel the event entirely amid the backdrop of history: More than a century ago, Philadelphia officials went ahead with a parade as the 1918 Spanish flu spread, a move that experts say in part led to the deaths of thousands of Philadelphians. A Harvard epidemiologist who is an expert in the response to that pandemic said Tuesday: “Waiting until you know you have a problem is courting a catastrophe.”
Bradley said the final call to cancel the parade was made by marshals and board members who were initially split on whether to cancel, but after discussing the ramifications, made a nearly unanimous decision to call it off. They wanted to decide early enough to give people coming in from out of town as much time as possible to cancel travel plans.
After the call was made, Bradley said he alerted Mayor Jim Kenney, who was supportive. Kenney tweeted that he appreciated the group’s “willingness to take the health and safety of the marchers and the attendees into account.”
Bradley said organizers considered postponing the parade, but ultimately decided against it. He said that more than a decade ago, a parade was postponed due to weather “and it was terrible” — only a handful of groups attended.
As for this Sunday, Bradley and many others are still planning to celebrate privately and will march around Center City, South Philadelphia, and Delaware County in observance of the holiday.