Americans marked a Memorial Day like no other as the coronavirus pandemic upended traditional commemorations and forced communities to honor the nation’s military dead with smaller, more subdued ceremonies like car convoys instead of parades.
On the weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer, U.S. authorities warned beach-goers to heed social-distancing rules to avoid a resurgence of the disease that has infected 5.4 million people worldwide and killed over 345,000, including nearly 100,000 Americans, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In New York City, fallen military members were honored with car convoys and small ceremonies this year rather than parades to conform with lockdown restrictions.
“It’s something we’re upset about, but we understand,” said Raymond Aalbue, chairman of the United Military Veterans of Kings County, which usually puts on a parade in Brooklyn.
There’s “no reason to put anybody in harm’s way,” he said, adding “it’s really cutting quick to the heart of all the veterans.”
Veterans, along with nursing home residents, have made up a significant portion of those who died in the U.S. outbreak.
After two days of playing golf, President Donald Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which overlooks rolling hills dotted with white tombstones. Trump was scheduled to speak later at a historic fort in Baltimore.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has criticized Trump’s visit, saying the city cannot afford it and that the trip sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives. Trump also demanded Monday that North Carolina’s Democratic governor sign off “immediately” on allowing the Republican National Convention to move forward in August with full attendance. Trump’s tweets about the RNC, planned for Charlotte, come just two days after North Carolina recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet.
At the White House, officials slapped a travel ban on Latin America’s most populous nation, saying it would deny admission to foreigners who have recently been in Brazil. The ban, which takes effect Thursday, does not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. With over 363,000 reported infections, Brazil is second only to the U.S. despite limited testing.
In the U.S., tens of thousands of Americans headed to beaches and parks, relieved to shake off some pandemic restrictions.
But Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was “very concerned” about scenes of people crowding together. In the Tampa area along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the crowds were so big that authorities closed parking lots to stem the flood. In Missouri, people packed bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Officials in California said most people were covering their faces and keeping their distance as they ventured out. Many Southern California beaches were open only for swimming, running and other activities, not sunbathing.
At New York’s Orchard Beach in the Bronx, kids played with toys and people sat in folding chairs, wrapped up in sweaters and masks.
“Fresh air. Just good to enjoy the outdoors,” said Danovan Clacken.