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De Blasio: NYC June parade permits canceled due to pandemic

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that all parade permits for June, including for those celebrating Israel, Puerto Rico and the NYC Pride, were canceled in another effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: New York City Mayor's Office

All June parade permits, including for those celebrating Israel, Puerto Rico and LGBTQ pride, were canceled Monday by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in yet another effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Millions attend these events every year: Celebrate Israel had been scheduled for June 7, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade for June 14 and the NYC Pride march for June 28.

On Thursday, the mayor’s office announced that all city-permitted events in May had been canceled. And on Monday, de Blasio extended the cancellations an additional month.

"This probably will not surprise you, but I'm now reporting today that we will cancel city permits for June events as well," he said. "It's not a happy announcement, but it's one we have to make."

He said the events could happen later this year but didn't give new dates.

The treasurer of the Puerto Rican parade, Rosa J. Gutierrez, said in an interview Thursday that organizers still plan to award $200,000 in scholarships. Applicant interviews are being done via video conferencing, Gutierrez said.

The parade dates to 1958, the Israel parade to 1965 and Pride to 1969.

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For Pride, 2020 is its golden jubilee: the first march was in 1970, one year after riots that started June 28, 1969, during an NYPD raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The riots are credited with catalyzing the modern gay-rights movement.

"This year is the 50th anniversary of the Pride parade," de Blasio said, "and it's a very, very big deal." 

The organizer, Heritage of Pride, wrote in a news release Monday morning that there would be a "virtual Global Pride event" on June 27. Pride events around the world, including in San Francisco, have also been canceled.

Last week, in-person Pride events on Long Island, with a parade scheduled June 14, were canceled indefinitely by the organizer, who cited the pandemic.   

Last month, with less than a week’s notice, the city's St. Patrick’s Day Parade, scheduled for March 17, was indefinitely postponed — the first time in the tradition’s 258-year-old history that it didn’t proceed.

The roots of the Celebrate Israel Parade are a 1965 march down Manhattan's Riverside Drive by thousands of American Zionist youth. 

Parade director Dori Zofan of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York said there are plans for a virtual event.

De Blasio announced the cancellations Monday at his daily news conference about the coronavirus, which has infected at least 132,467 in the city and killed an estimated 13,683 as of 2:30 p.m. Monday, according to the city health department.

Parades are notorious spreaders of pandemic diseases.

For example, municipal decisions during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 to allow parades fueled the explosive spread of the virus.

That year, the Philadelphia government refused to stop a war-bond parade to be attended by hundreds of thousands, despite pleas to cancel over the looming pandemic: A prominent public health doctor warned that the parade would ignite “a ready-made inflammable mass for a conflagration,” according to John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”

But the parade went on.

Within 72 hours, every bed in the city’s 31 hospitals was filled. Soon, hundreds of thousands of people were falling ill. At one hospital, nearly a quarter of patients died each day.

According to a 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal: “Cities that put several measures in place early” — including banning public gatherings like parades — “experienced peak death rates that were approximately half of those seen in cities that started their interventions later.”

The article compared Philadelphia to St. Louis — which canceled events and took other measures early on — and concluded that far fewer people died in St. Louis than in Philadelphia.

In November 1918, San Francisco held a public celebration to declare local victory over the Spanish flu. Sickness and death and weeks of mandatory masking ended with hundreds ripping off their masks and tossing them into the street.

By January, the death toll had nearly doubled.

De Blasio said Thursday that he had spoken the night before to that city’s mayor, London Breed, about what happened there more than a century ago.

“They literally had, like, a big, like, city celebration that the flu was over and everyone came flocking to the celebration,” de Blasio said at a news conference. “And days later, there was a massive outbreak and it got worse than ever and put off much longer any recovery.”

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