Canceled in Ireland, but not in Philly: St. Patrick’s Day Parade proceeds despite coronavirus concern

State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty marched with Electricians Local Union 98 during the 2017 Saint Patrick's Day Parade, in Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

State Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty marched with Electricians Local Union 98 during the 2017 Saint Patrick's Day Parade, in Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

Despite mounting concerns about the spread of novel coronavirus in the region, the organizers of Philadelphia’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade say the event will go ahead as scheduled.

“The fact is we have to continue as a population to go on with our lives,” said Michael J. Bradley Jr., the former longtime director and current grand marshall of the parade. “We don’t have any plans of stopping this parade on Sunday.”

The city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, scheduled for Sunday, March 15, includes about 20,000 participants and can draw up to 100,000 spectators, according to Bradley. First organized in 1771, the parade is the second oldest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the country. This year marks its 250th anniversary.

City officials are not currently recommending any changes to the festivities.

“We … continue to recommend that parade-goers practice good respiratory hygiene,” James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Health, said in an email. “If someone is sick, they should not attend the parade. Everyone should take care to wash their hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Everyone should cover their cough or sneeze, stay away from people who are visibly sick and not touch their faces.”

As of Monday afternoon, ten people have tested positive for coronavirus in Pennsylvania. Seven of those cases are residents of Montgomery County, and there is one each from Delaware, Wayne and Monroe Counties. Three people are hospitalized, but state health officials would not disclose information about their identities or say where they are being treated. The rest are staying home to avoid spreading the virus.

Still, some organizations are taking preemptive measures to get ahead of the virus. For example, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) has cancelled a convention set to take place in Philadelphia next week, and the University of Pennsylvania canceled its “Quaker Days” events for new students scheduled for April.

Other St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been preemptively canceled already, including the biggest parade in Ireland.

Cancelling has historically not been an option for the organizers of Philadelphia’s event. Its website lists two rules: “Rule 1: THE PARADE IS ON EVERY YEAR, LIQUID SUNSHINE OR SHINE ! IT DOES NOT GET CANCELLED. Rule 2: If we have confused you, see Rule 1.”

Marion Ryder co-owns The Plough and the Stars, an Irish pub in Old City along the parade’s route. The pub will be open at 8 a.m. for revellers looking to warm up with an early drink. Ryder said she’s put containers of hand sanitizer out, and is reminding staff to wash their hands regularly, but business is proceeding as normal.

“I’m not hugging much, but I’m Irish, so I don’t hug much anyway,” Marion said.

Jeff Belonger, a St. Patrick’s Day Parade booster who runs a Facebook page dedicated to the event, thinks, unless things change drastically, coronavirus won’t dampen turnout at this year’s parade.

“It’s really hard to keep the Irish down,” Belonger said. “For the most part people are going to be celebrating still.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal