The ability of Mobile to pull off a traditional Carnival season while the COVID-19 pandemic continues seems less likely by the day, after Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced he would delay the issuance of parade permits indefinitely.
In a statement released Friday, Dec. 4, Stimpson said no permits would be issued “until further notice” based on guidance from the Medical Society of Mobile County and the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“As we have since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to monitor the situation locally and make determinations based on the latest information and guidance from public health officials,” Stimpson said in the statement. “We are also open to the idea of revisiting the issuance of parade permits in the future if the present situation changes.
“While our celebration may look different next year, we are the birthplace of Mardi Gras, and I believe we are creative enough to observe this important tradition while also protecting the health and safety of Mobilians and the frontline health care workers that serve our community.”
Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bernard Eichold said in a phone interview the Mobile County Health Department (MCHD) has less authority over parade permits than it has over restaurant and bar licenses. That’s why at the beginning of the pandemic, MCHD put tight regulations on those establishments.
While MCHD is the licensing authority for food service entities, he said, it’s the city that controls parade permits.
“We’ll wait and see if this is addressed by the governor’s health order or by the groups themselves,” Eichold said. “I commend those organizations that have made the decision not to parade.”
At the time of the interview, Mobile County was in the midst of a significant rise in community spread of the disease, including 200 positive cases within a 24-hour period. Although right now it’s wait and see for what late January and early February bring, Eichold said if the surge in cases remains the same then as it is now, he would go to Mobile County Circuit Court to invalidate parade permits if need be.
“My advice is to postpone Mardi Gras,” Eichold said. “It’s not for the Mobile County Health Department to decide.”
The county’s medical society has also issued a request Mardi Gras be canceled this year in the wake of the pandemic.
“Current guidance from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [the Alabama Department of Public Health] emphasize that non-work gatherings must maintain [six-foot] spacing,” the letter reads. “Clearly, with the upcoming holiday, social, parade and Carnival season, there will be a number of events where [six-foot] spacing cannot be maintained by the county municipalities. The event that poses the most staggering and considerable risk are parades, where thousands of citizens attend, crowded together and remain for several hours along various parade routes.”
The importance of slowing the spread of the disease is important, the letter noted, as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in our area. Recent data collected by MCHD points to the potential of as many as 3.6 percent of individuals tested being unknown carriers of the disease. Just under 20 percent of those tested in Mobile County are positive for COVID-19, according to the letter.
“These are both unacceptable numbers for a highly contagious virus in an already vulnerable community,” the letter states. “The net effect is that as the disease slope increases, the impact on our community will be devastating.”
Eichold pushed the idea of a celebration later in the year, after a vaccine has been widely distributed and the community has reached 65 percent to 70 percent “herd immunity,” which is the number of those infected plus those immunized.
David Cooper, president of the Mobile Carnival Association, said it’s too early to make a determination on what Mardi Gras might look like, as it is not safe to hold any type of public celebration downtown.
“That will, of course, determine when our 2021 Mobile Carnival Association king and queen and their Mardi Gras court will be celebrated publically,” Cooper wrote in an email. “We will delay and watch for signs of public health recovery and improvement so as to act in a responsible manner.”
The Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association has not made any decisions regarding its activities at this point, according to a source.
The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) is not waiting to see what numbers look like. Spokesperson Lori Myles confirmed deputies will not participate in any parades countywide.
“The sheriff is protecting his own employees as well as the health care of the public,” Myles said.
In addition to providing the main security at parades in the county, deputies also provide security along the perimeter of parades within the city limits. About 25 to 30 deputies work the city parades from a home base at Government Plaza, Myles said. Deputies will also not be working Christmas parades this year, she said.
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