SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Festival is about a week away. This year’s event comes with some changes due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Thousands of people will be visiting the city and that means more people could be exposed to the virus if it makes it’s way to the Coastal Empire. City leaders say they are monitoring the latest news non-stop and they’re taking proactive steps to protect festival-goers.
“We’re expecting a great day in Savannah where thousands of people will come and discover and rediscover Savannah and they will have the absolute time of their lives,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.
It’s a day to celebrate the luck of the Irish, but this year coronavirus concerns are also part of planning for the St. Patrick’s Day festival.
“We suspect at this point people have made the decision of I’m not going to go in because I don’t want to be around people or we’re going to come in and we’re going to have a good time anyway,” Visit Savannah President, Joseph Marinelli said.
City leaders say they don’t expect fears about the spread of COVID-19 to hurt St. Patrick’s Day festival attendance, but they’re doing everything they can to prepare before large crowds invade Savannah for the big party.
It brings some changes like replacing handshakes with elbow bumps.
“We understand that some people are concerned about large public gatherings as we hear news about the spread of coronavirus in other parts of our country. Public health is communicating regularly with parade and festival organizers and emergency managers,” Public Health Epidemiologist with the Coastal Health District, Robert Thornton said.
Officials say in the interest of keeping everyone safe St. Patrick’s day vendors will have new guidelines to follow. The emphasis is on ramping up cleanliness.
“I think that you’ll see within the festival area those businesses participating by providing additional hand sanitizing stations at their bars, in the restaurants, and in the hotel lobby,” Michael Owens with the Tourist and Leadership Council said.
“We would encourage everyone to bring your own as well,” Director of Special Events and Tourism, Susan Broker said.
Officials also say if you’re sick to stay home.
It’s a long-standing tradition for women to kiss members of the 3rd Infantry Division and students in the ROTC on the cheek during the parade. Festival organizers are advising people to not kiss anyone this year.
They say you can respect the uniform by cheering and clapping for members of the military, but in the interest of safety, they say it’s best to keep your lips to yourself.