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Chicago, other cities, cancel St. Patrick’s Day parades

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago on Wednesday joined the ranks of cities around the world to scrap St. Patrick’s Day parades amid concerns about spread of the new coronavirus, calling off an event that attracts tens of thousands of revelers who line the streets, pack themselves into pubs and peer into a river that every year is turned bright green.

Chicago’s mayor said she couldn’t risk the kind of gathering that scientists warn could hasten the further spread of COVID-19.

“Like cities across the nation, we concluded that having a parade at this time posed an unnecessary risk to the public’s health,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters at a news conference with a supportive Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The mayor of Savannah, Georgia, later announced that city’s 196-year-old St. Patrick’s Day parade, scheduled for Tuesday, and a weekend festival had been called off as well.

Chicago’s parade had been scheduled for Saturday, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.

“We all know what the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations mean to the city of Chicago,” said Pritzker, a Democrat. “Because of what we’ve seen nationally, and across the world, of the increased risk of large gatherings, this was the right call.”

Indeed, it was deemed the right call in cities from Boston and Philadelphia to Denver, Dallas, San Francisco and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The cities of Dublin — the one in Ohio and the one in Ireland — also pulled the plugs on their parades.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The cancellations come as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbs. In the U.S., the total has topped 1,000. Worldwide, more than 119,000 have been infected, and more than 4,200 have died. Lightfoot’s announcement came a day after officials announced that the number of cases in Illinois had climbed by eight to 19.

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The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Savannah’s weekend festivities and March 17 parade draw crowds approaching a half million people, potentially more than tripling the size of the 146,000-resident city for a few days. Started by Irish immigrants to Georgia’s oldest city in 1824, the March 17 parade has ballooned into a massive street party that’s Savannah’s most profitable tourism draw.

Mayor Van Johnson told a news conference he knew the decision to cancel would be unpopular with many. Nobody from the private group that organizes the annual parade attending the mayor’s announcement. Bars, restaurants and other businesses had already stocked up on extra beer, food and gaudy green souvenirs in anticipation of the busy holiday.

“You’ve got a lot of people who rely on that money,” said Melissa Swanson, owner of The Rail Pub in Savannah’s downtown historic district. “It’s part of your business plan.”

In Chicago, the cancellation of Saturday’s parade is bad news for the restaurants that usually are packed with revelers all day and well into the night.

“For us it’s devastating,” said Kieran Aherne, regional manager of Fado Irish Pub, four blocks from the Chicago River that ordinarily would be dyed green. “Saturday is bigger here than St. Patrick’s Day and this will be a six-figure loss for us.”

In a news release, Lightfoot’s office said the city will work with organizers to reschedule the parade. But Aherne, who said businesses like his have already taken a financial hit with recent trade show cancellations, thinks such talk is just so much spilled beer.

“This isn’t like some charity event that you can reschedule and double back,” he said. “Once you get into the middle of April, that ship has sailed.”

Associated Press Writer Russ Bynum contributed to this report from Savannah, Ga.

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