Party on, Wayne

What virus?

Bruce Rushton
Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade is full speed ahead. So far.
State legislators are on hold, gatherings at the Capitol have been banned and senior centers have closed while public health experts and politicians warn people, especially the elderly and folks with underlying conditions such as diabetes, to avoid crowds.

Nonetheless, public works crews on Wednesday distributed crowd control barriers on downtown streets where the city of Springfield and organizers of Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade say the show will go on despite concerns over coronavirus, which have prompted more than a half-dozen cities ranging from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Dublin, Ireland to cancel parades.

Nearly 100 elected officials, businesses, charities and other entities are signed up to participate in the annual Springfield parade, which draws thousands to downtown and is considered an important economic engine, especially for bar owners. But at least one politician who’s signed up to march won’t be there.


State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, notified supporters via Twitter on Wednesday that he’s canceling his parade appearance. In an interview, Manar said he had expected to walk the route with about 75 supporters. “My concern, obviously, is the public health aspect,” Manar said. “To me, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. We’re in uncharted water here.”

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, however, says he’s proceeding with plans to walk. Campbell isn’t on the ballot this year and says he’ll appear with an entourage of one, his wife.

“I don’t have any concerns right now,” Campbell said. “I think that we’re doing a good job in Springfield and Sangamon County of managing this.”

Campbell said he’ll bring hand sanitizer and likely do more fist and elbow bumps than in past years, but he won’t pull away if spectators reach out. “I’ll be shaking hands,” he said.


After crews distributed crowd control barriers on Wednesday afternoon, the city and parade organizers issued a joint press release.

“The…St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, together with the City of Springfield, informs the public the annual downtown parade will take place as scheduled this coming Saturday,” the release, issued hours after Chicago canceled its parade, read. “The news of the coronavirus has been at the forefront locally and across the nation. However, throughout Springfield, multiple activities with large crowds occur in our city each day from sporting events to conferences, to fundraisers and live performances. Right now, each event and venue is operating sensibly and cautiously while individuals assess their own decisions on their participation.”

Shawn Mayernick, president of the parade committee, sounded confident during an interview. “We’re definitely confirmed,” he said, “We would cancel if there was lightning or tornado.”

Asked whether people older than 60 or those with health conditions — including diabetes, immune deficiencies, respiratory conditions or heart disease — that experts say increase vulnerability should attend the parade, Mayernick said he’s not an expert, but volunteer organizers care about the community. “We don’t dismiss all this stuff with health and safety,” he said. “We are a very caring and concerned group of people that enjoy getting together.”

Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon County Health Department, said that neither the city nor parade organizers directly consulted her before announcing the parade will go on. And she left room for cancellation – public health authorities, she said, can step in if they believe an event poses an unacceptable risk. She noted that there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in central Illinois.


“We’re still pretty sure the parade can go on,” O’Neill said. “We don’t have any cases here yet. … It’s a decision that’s day-to-day, pretty much. It’s kind of a decision we make with our medical experts.”

O’Neill says the department has had internal discussions about the parade, and some traditions might not be a good idea this year. “We have concerns about candy being thrown out and things like that,” she said. People, O’Neill said, can decide for themselves whether they want to be paradegoers. People who are 60 or older or who have underlying health conditions making them at higher risk than others should give careful consideration. Anyone who has a cold or feels sick also should stay home, O’Neill said.

A contagious person might feel fine for days before falling ill, experts say. On Tuesday, Gov. J. B. Pritzker said that someone who spends 10 minutes six feet away from an infected person was at risk.

What, if any, precautions should parade-goers take after festivities end? Should they, for instance, avoid people over 60, or those with underlying conditions such as diabetes that put people at greater risk?

“That’s something to keep in your mind, actually,” O’Neill responds. “It’s hard to tell. We don’t want people visiting the elderly if they’ve got colds or anything like that, too.”

O’Neill said that Peoria, like Springfield, hasn’t canceled its parade. “We talked to Peoria today,” she said. “They don’t have any (coronavirus) cases, either.” The NBA on Wednesday suspended its season. A state high school basketball tournament is still on for this weekend in Peoria. “Everybody’s got big things going on,” O’Neill said.

IN OTHER CORONAVIRUS NEWS:

State officials announced six new cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of Illinois cases to 25.

Local senior centers have been closed, according to a Wednesday press release from Senior Services of Central Illinois. “The Springfield senior center will not be open to the public,” the organization announced in its release. “All staff will continue to report to work and be available by appointment only. … No individuals will be permitted to congregate in the building.”

President Donald Trump on Wednesday night announced that he’s shutting down travel from Europe. The president also urged people to avoid crowds.

The National Basketball Association on Wednesday suspended its season, saying a player has tested positive for the virus. The NCAA announced that March Madness basketball games will be played sans spectators.

The state Senate has canceled next week's session. “When the state association for emergency doctors cancels its Capitol visit citing public health concerns, it should give us all reason to re-examine our schedules and priorities," Senate President Don Harmon said in a written statement. Secretary of State Jesse White on Wednesday announced a ban on tours and large gatherings at the Capitol.

The University of Illinois on Wednesday banned events drawing more than 50 people. The decision includes University of Illinois Springfield. Classes will be held online, officials said, with a complete migration from in-person to digital expected by March 23. Illinois State University is extending spring break and closing down campus housing.

Actor Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife recently fell ill and have tested positive for the virus.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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