BY TODD MAISEL AND ROBERT POZARYCKI
After marching in sunshine and in shadow every March for more than 250 years, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan has officially been postponed due to fears about the spread of the coronavirus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo made it official with a late Wednesday night announcement. The parade is not cancelled, but merely postponed. No makeup date has been set, according to Sean Lane, the chair of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee.
Cuomo said the decision came after several conversations with committee members. The postponement is being done as a precaution. It’s feared that the coronavirus could rapidly spread among the millions who normally attend the parade.
“Following those conversations, I recommended and the parade’s leadership agreed to postpone this year’s parade due to the high density and the large volume of marchers and spectators who attend,” the governor said in a statement. “While I know the parade organizers did not make this decision lightly, public health experts agree that one of the most effective ways to contain the spread of the virus is to limit large gatherings and close contacts, and I applaud the parade’s leadership for working cooperatively with us. While the risk to New Yorkers remains low and we want to avoid social and economic disruptions, we have an obligation to take action to contain the spread of this virus.”
“We thank Governor Cuomo for his decisive leadership in this challenging time,” Lane added. “We look forward to celebrating the 259th St. Patrick’s Day Parade with the entire city of New York at a later date.”
For much of Wednesday, it wasn’t clear whether the parade would go on amid the ongoing epidemic. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade dates back to colonial period; it has marched on through some of the city’s greatest crises — the American Revolution, the Civil War, two world wars, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1920, the Great Depression and just six months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo made statements that seemed to indicate cancellation or postponement of this year’s parade was a likely outcome.
“After speaking to health experts, their advice is to reduce large gatherings,” Cuomo said at a mid-afternoon press conference in Albany. “Why would you risk bring thousands of people together knowing that this is a virus that easily communicates?” said Cuomo. “St. Patrick’s Day is one of the great convenings in New York City. The experts say you shouldn’t have a St. Patrick’s Day gathering at this time, which I believe makes sense.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio took a more cautious tone during an MSNBC appearance the same afternoon.
“We’re going to be working with the folks who organize the St. Patrick’s Parade to make a decision soon, and certainly well before the parade happens,” de Blasio said. “But when you look at everything out there – you’re right, it’s a crowded city, there are special conditions. I think the thing to think about is, we’re not trying to shut down human life in this city. We are not anywhere near that point and I think there are huge unintended consequences, starting with for people’s livelihoods through which they pay the rent and get food and everything else that we don’t want a trip that wire the wrong way.”
Then the waters muddied further.
Late in the afternoon, the New York Post reported that Councilwoman Carolina Rivera of Manhattan told them the parade was cancelled. But a spokesman for her office said she was “misquoted and the Post was making a correction.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was quoted in Crain’s New York that the parade was off. A spokesman for her, however, only verified that she made the quote to Crain’s — but referred us to the Mayor’s office for further comment.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee had flat-out denied reports that a decision had been made to cancel the march in a March 11 tweet.
“At this point in time contrary to the media outlets and social media no decision has been made to cancel the NYC St Patrick’s Day Parade. Please continue to check this page for updates,” the committee wrote.
Joseph Swilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said he had no comment at this time as “we have not gotten word yet.”
Now that the postponement was made official, New Yorkers wonder when their eyes will smile again amid this time of trial.
This story was updated on March 11 at 10:37 p.m.