MACCLENNY, Fla. – City Manager Phil Rhoden announced Tuesday that Macclenny’s popular annual Christmas Parade would not be taking place this December because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Rhoden explained to the city commissioners that the decision did not come lightly for him or the fire chief because the event is important to the community and the fire department.
But, he said, the latest CDC guidelines include community parades as a high-risk activity.
“You cannot control the number of people there and you cannot control social distancing,” Rhoden told the commissioners.
He said the event typically draws more than 15,000 spectators to the small Baker County community and that’s just too many to reasonably space them out or expect law enforcement to be able to enforce any kind of mask requirement.
He said based on social media feedback, about half of the community wants the parade and the other half wanted to call it off because they were worried about COVID.
“If we do have the parade, half the people are going to be mad, and we have put people at risk,” Rhoden explained. “If we do not have the parade, half the people are going to be mad, but we didn’t put anyone at risk.”
He said the decision needed to be made now because vendors and the fire department needed time to prepare if it was going to happen.
“We just don’t see any way to do it and do it safely and feel comfortable in doing that,” Rhoden said. “I think we have an obligation to keep the community as safe as we can and I don’t see any way to come to any other decision but to not hold it this year.”
He acknowledged that Baker County High School is still holding its homecoming parade but pointed out that’s a different situation because it will draw only 2,000 people and they can be spread out along the highway for the event.
He said it hurt him and the others to make the call because they know it will hurt some businesses. He suggested that if the pandemic gets under control by spring they could hold a new event to celebrate the community.
“On its worst day, it is still better than any place I’ve ever been,” Rhoden said.