SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day festival and parade won’t go on as planned in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mayor Van Johnson, Savannah Waterfront, Tourism Leadership Council, Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce and Visit Savannah made the announcement on Wednesday.
“Admittedly, these have been some of the hardest days of my life as I rustled with the decisions I’ve been vested to make; a decision that will make people upset no matter what,” Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday night. “Fortunately, I did not have to make a decision; we made a decision in collaboration with our partners.”
While some groups like the Tourism Leadership Council said the events are “postponed,” there is no word yet on new dates for the festival or parade. Johnson said that if partners want to reschedule, the city will be ready.
“As you know, Savannah is known for festivals,” he said. “We’ll have a festival and a parade in a minute and we’ll be more than willing to help do that.”
Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Grand Marshal Michael Roush Sr., the city’s 196th, said he respects the decision but doesn’t agree with it.
“I know they mentioned that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is postponed but there’s no such thing,” he said. “It’s either on St. Patrick’s Day, or it’s not at all.”
Just days after turning the Forsyth Park fountain green and honoring the grand marshals that came before him, Roush said he’s disappointed the big event won’t take place Tuesday.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for years and years,” he said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is one of the largest in the nation and according to the parade committee, the Hostess City’s has been held every year since 1824.
Johnson said he understands that many are upset about the decision, but added: “in the end, public safety has to come first.”
Coastal Health District Director Dr. Lawton Davis said at Wednesday’s press conference that while the elderly and those at a higher risk of getting sick should avoid public places and crowds, others should feel free to enjoy the holiday.
“We would encourage you to continue supporting our local businesses, eat in restaurants, after you wash your hands, of course,” he quipped, adding, “If you’re healthy, go to school, go to work and go to your house of worship if you’re not in one of those high-risk groups.”
At this time there have been no cases of COVID-19 reported in Chatham County, though St. Joseph’s/Candler is waiting to hear back about one of their patient’s test results.
“It could soon be detected here,” Davis said. “It’s really not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, at this point in time.”
Savannah joins the many other cities that have canceled or postponed parades, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Dublin.
And while the parade and festival are off, as the mayor said, Savannah is still open for business.
“People are here, people will be visiting this weekend and businesses have upped their game, impressively so, to provide the safest experience possible,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the Tybee Island Irish Heritage Celebration Parade is still set for 3 p.m. Saturday, organizers stated Wednesday evening.
Committee members tell News 3 the Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade will also still take place Sunday at 3 p.m.