ByWTOC Staff|March 11, 2020 at 3:58 PM EDT - Updated March 12 at 12:11 AM
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The 196th Savannah St. Patrick’s Day festival and parade have been canceled. At this time, there is no date set to reschedule the parade.
Mayor Van Johnson said the events will not go as planned because of the threat of COVID-19.
The festival was scheduled to start on Friday, March 13.
Mayor Johnson and city leaders held a news conference to provide updates to the community:
“People are really feeling this is a significant health challenge. Savannah is OK right now. We just want to make sure Savannah remains OK. Savannah is open for business. People are here. We are going to treat them well, but we just could not have the huge public gatherings. We could not have the large festivities. We could not have a large parade. We just could not do it,” Mayor Johnson said.
This will be the first time the city has not had a parade since the 1940′s.
With more than 120,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 4,600 deaths in over 123 countries and territories, the World Health Organization has declared that there is a coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world.
“We are one person away from an epidemic here in Chatham County and we need to make sure that our residents remain safe. That’s why the decision was made so that our residents were safe. People are really feeling the health challenge and Savannah’s okay right now. We want to make sure Savannah stays that way," said Mayor Johnson.
The mayor says he wrestled with the decision that he knew would upset and disappoint people.
“This has been extremely difficult. Literally nights without sleeping, just worried about making the right decision.”
The Coastal Health District also stands in agreement and has these tips for the community.
“This is not a time to be fearful with one another,” said Dr. Lawton Davis. “If you are of high risk of severe complications of a respiratory illness, you should avoid public places and crowds. If you are elderly and have risk, you probably should avoid your house of worship as well. If you are perfectly healthy, enjoy the business.”
“Savannah’s open for business. People are here and we are going to treat them well, but we just could not have the large public gatherings," said Mayor Johnson.
As for Savannah Police and firefighters, nothing will change for them. They will be working their planned St. Patrick’s Day work schedule.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee reaction
St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee reaction
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee did not attend the news conference at 6 p.m.
“It’s a sad day for the Irish community," said St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee Chairman Bubba Edgerly.
“I’m disappointed to say the least," said 2020 Grand Marshal Mike Roush Sr. “I would have hoped that the mayor would have taken a stand. But he didn’t.”
Those who spend all year preparing for Savannah‘s biggest day are grappling with the news.
“I respect the mayor’s decision. I don’t agree with it. At all," said Roush.
“While we are disappointed, we respect the wishes of the City of Savannah in light of the recent public concerns. Canceling the parade over a health concern is historic," said Edgerly.
“St. Patrick’s Day was canceled from 1942 to 1945 during World War II. Little different circumstances," said Roush.
The change touches everyone in the city and beyond.
“You know, it’s still devastating for us as a community. The Irish community. And as the whole City of Savannah, it’s really hard to swallow right now. It’s a tough, tough day today," said Edgerly.
Those in charge may miss the big event, but feel Savannah will move on.
“It’s a devastating loss. I mean, you cancel the 196th parade that has been going on. It’s very devastating. I broke down earlier," said Edgerly.
“We’ll be here next year and the year after that and so on. We’re Savannah and we just make the best of it," said Roush.
Community reaction to St. Patrick's Day parade cancellation
Mayor Johnson said he knows there is a lot of emotion regarding this decision.
After city officials canceled Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Parade, locals and visitors had mixed reactions about the news.
Andre Armour is from Albany, Georgia. He says this year, would’ve been his first year going to the festival and parade.
“This was going to be my first time going to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities so I’m not totally upset because I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Savannah native Bonnie Spears comes downtown to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with her family every year. But this year, she says she’s considering taking her family to the parades on Tybee Island and Hilton Head Island instead.
“We usually come down for the festivities that they have here, it’s a good time and this year because of it being all canceled and everything, we’re going to have to find something else to do.”
And some didn’t plan on coming to the festivities at all but were surprised to hear of it’s cancellation because of the money it brings into the city.
“I thought that’s crazy because it’s a big loss of money," said Crystal Williams. "All the people that are here and how beautiful the scenery would be because it’s completely green. I’ve absolutely loved it when I’ve come before.”
However, in the end they all say even though they won’t be able to join in on the city’s official celebration, they’re going to make the best of it.
“Make the best of what you still have that’s how I see it. Because at the end of the day, they’re canceling it to be safe,” said Williams.
Other parades continuing
The Tybee Island and Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day parades are proceeding as scheduled this weekend.
Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen released a statement saying,“At this time the Tybee Island Irish Heritage Parade will proceed as scheduled. There has been no recommendation from the Governor, CEMA or the Department of Health to cancel events. If additional information on the coronavirus within Chatham County becomes available over the next two days and the Governor, Department of Health and CEMA recommend the cancellation of large events then the parade will be cancelled.”
The Tybee Irish Heritage Parade is Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Hilton Head Island’s parade is Sunday at 3 p.m.
Photo: Getty Images