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No large events in Philly through February: ‘We’re going to have to live with this virus for a long time’

The seven-and-a-half-month moratorium is one of various prevention measures that will be needed until the population is vaccinated against the coronavirus, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

The elite runners take off at the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon on the Ben Franklin Parkway on a wet and cold Sunday morning on November 24, 2019.
The elite runners take off at the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon on the Ben Franklin Parkway on a wet and cold Sunday morning on November 24, 2019.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

In a dramatic step that underscores how long the coronavirus is expected to disrupt daily life, Philadelphia officials on Tuesday canceled all large-scale events in the city through February, including the Philadelphia Marathon, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, block parties, and other iconic traditions.

The 7½-month moratorium is one of various prevention measures that will have to stay in place until the population is vaccinated against the coronavirus, and that won’t happen before 2021, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

The city’s ban is one of the longest imposed anywhere in the nation since summer outbreaks hit states that had already reopened — many of which are now reinstating restrictions. Pennsylvania has not seen that type of surge, and the city’s move Tuesday looked like a decisive preventive measure.

“The bigger lesson right now is that we’re going to have to live with this virus for a long time. It’s not just going to go away,” said Farley. “We’re going to have some restrictions on our actions until we deploy a vaccine. ...This is just one piece of that overall strategy in how to survive [until then].”

The city also said fans will not be allowed at Eagles games: If professional sports teams resume playing, spectators will be barred from the stands, though that is not part of the moratorium. The Phillies already planned to play without fans.

» READ MORE: 'There’s no way for them to be safe': Eagles fans won’t be allowed to attend home games

The moratorium means large-scale events will essentially have been shut down in the city for a year — if it ends on Feb. 28 as planned, that would be just days before the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania.

“We’ve seen it very clearly that when you open up too fast and too recklessly, you throw it back to almost a red phase,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, referencing Pennsylvania’s most restrictive stage of shutdown.

Still, Kenney said he was “really disappointed” to have to instate the moratorium. It applies to events of more than 50 people on public property, which would normally need to be permitted by the city. That includes block parties.

The city will not accept, review, or approve permit applications or issue permits during the moratorium. It will not accept applications for residential block permits until further notice, Kenney said.

» READ MORE: How will events cancellation affect businesses?

The ban does not apply to demonstrations or other First Amendment-protected activities, private outdoor gatherings such as weddings or family picnics, or events on private property, including performance venues and stadiums, Kenney said. Under current health orders, however, events of 25 or more people indoors are not permitted and all theaters are closed.

The city spoke to event producers before making its announcement, and they weren’t surprised by the move, said Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

“The city is faced with a pandemic, and everybody has to do their part,” said Rusty Martz, president of the Philadelphia Mummers Museum, who said officers of the umbrella organizations that oversee Mummers brigades “had a feeling” the parade might be canceled. “Certainly since March, we’ve all been disappointed in many different ways. This is just another one.”

The moratorium means the controversial 120-year-old Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day will not go on the year after marchers wearing blackface sparked calls for its cancellation and threats from Kenney not to permit it.

In addition to the scores of cancellations of events across the country, including the New York and Chicago Marathons, New York City last week canceled all large events requiring a city permit through Sept. 30, and Toronto did the same. Elsewhere, restrictions on gatherings effectively ban most events.

Cancellations aren’t unique to Philadelphia, and it’s not yet clear whether they will have a negative long-term effect on the region, said Jeff Guaracino, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia — though people will “long for” the events that normally bring them together.

“The hope is that we’ll look back on this year as a year where we missed the events that define who we are as a people and a city and a region,” Guaracino said. “Can the events survive and come back in the future? That’s the larger question that we have from a tourism point of view.”

Some of Philadelphia’s most anticipated events were set to occur within the next several months: the Broad Street Run, which had been rescheduled from May to October, the Philadelphia Marathon in November, the Puerto Rican Day Parade in September, and the Thanksgiving Day Parade, among many others.

The Thanksgiving parade, which is the oldest in the country and celebrated its 100th year last year, has been canceled just once before, in 1971, due to bad weather. Organizers said they agreed with the city’s decision.

An alternative “celebration made specially for Philadelphia” will air on television, they said in a statement issued by 6ABC, which coordinates the event.

“And this year,” the organizers said, “the best view of it all will be the safest of all: from your living room.”

» READ MORE: The story of the 1918 parade that wasn't canceled -- and spread the Spanish Flu

The announcement had ripple effects for event organizers.

The Blue Cross Broad Street Run does “not have the funds” to give refunds to the 40,000 runners who signed up, said Leo Dignam, assistant managing director for the city and executive director of the run. It is the first time the event has been canceled in its 40-year history.

The run will go “virtual,” meaning runners are asked to run 10 miles on their own and share photos, some of which will be broadcast on NBC10. Runners will be mailed a package with goodies including a finisher’s medal, will be granted entry into the 2021 run without having to enter the lottery, and will receive a 20% discount on next year’s registration fee.

The Philadelphia Marathon said participants would be able to get refunds, defer to 2021, 2022, or 2023, or donate their registration fee to the American Association for Cancer Research.

“While this decision weighs heavily on us, the health and well-being of our running community is of the utmost importance,” the statement said.

The dance with reopening continued in other ways across the region.

New Jersey removed Delaware from its travel advisories after the First State saw a decline in cases. Delaware Gov. John Carney said Pennsylvania had also removed it from its advisory list, but the commonwealth had not updated its list with confirmation by Tuesday evening.

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed new restrictions for travelers from the 22 advisory-list states on Monday, including a $2,000 fine for travelers who don’t comply at the state’s airports, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday he did not have immediate plans to fine people. Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin were added to the list of states from which travelers entering New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut must quarantine.

PATCO announced all riders will be required to wear masks on trains and at stations beginning Friday. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which remained closed as other casinos in Atlantic City reopened, announced plans to reopen July 26. And Rivers Casino Philadelphia will reopen for business Friday, the last casino in Pennsylvania to restart operations.

New Jersey reported 213 new cases on Tuesday and said its seven-day average continues to decline. But Pennsylvania’s rolling weekly average for daily new cases remains in the 700s, much higher than it was a few weeks ago.

Pennsylvania reported 929 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the third time in the last eight days the state added more than 900 new cases. About 200 of those cases were a result of a delay in private lab result reporting, the Department of Health said.

Philadelphia added 148 new infections on Tuesday. Last week, the city averaged 107 new cases and one new death per day.

Black Philadelphians have died of the coronavirus at 1.5 times the rate of white residents, according to newly analyzed city data, Health Commissioner Farley said Tuesday.

The data indicate that access to testing has been as good or better for Black residents as white residents, Farley said, which is "a good sign."

Forty percent of Philadelphia’s coronavirus infections in “the past few days” have been in people under 30, Farley said, compared with 20% during the pandemic overall. There are no longer serious outbreaks in the city’s nursing homes, he said, but 24 people have tested positive in the city jail.

He asked people, especially young adults, to avoid social events.

“The key message to everyone is: To avoid a major shutdown, we need everyone to use masks when they are around others,” Farley said.

Contributing to this article were staff writers Sophie Burkholder, Andrew Maykuth, and Sean Collins Walsh and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA.