‘This isn’t the flu’: Marty Walsh defended the decision to cancel Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The Boston mayor says the city is also assessing other large events, like the marathon, amid coronavirus concerns.

Boston, MA--03/17/2019--Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, shakes hands with people in the crowd during the St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston on Sunday afternoon.

(Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)
Topic: 18parade
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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh high fives with people in the crowd during the St. Patrick's Day Parade last year in South Boston. –Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh went on sports talk radio Tuesday morning to defend the decision to cancel the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, amid efforts — both locally and abroad — to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease. And while Walsh urged residents to take the disease seriously, he conceded that the move likely won’t stop partygoers over the weekend.

During the appearance on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show,” Walsh rejected the host’s assertion that the canceled parade would cost local bars “a fortune.”

“They’re going to be fine,” Walsh said.

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“People are still going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day,” he added.

Walsh suggested that anyone who was “mad” about the cancellation should look to Ireland, where several major St. Patrick’s Day parades were also canceled Monday.

In a statement Monday, Walsh announced the decision to follow suit in Boston was made “out of an abundance of caution” and in collaboration with South Boston lawmakers and parade organizers. While the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Boston remained low at the time, local health experts expressed concerns about the potential of large gatherings perpetuating its spread. Epidemiologists say such cancellations are among a number of important tools to slow down the spread of the disease and ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed by a surge in new cases.

City officials say one Boston resident has a confirmed case of the coronavirus and eight others are being self-quarantined at home after testing positive for the disease. Of the 91 presumptive cases in Massachusetts, the vast majority are linked to a Biogen meeting last month in Boston.

“The best way of trying to prevent the spread of it is by not having large groups of people together, particularly that there’s no way to kind of watch what’s going on there,” he said Tuesday, adding that a parade with “1.1 million people coming into a neighborhood” could be “pretty dangerous.”

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“Canceling the parade is not something I do lightly,” he said.

Walsh also dismissed the suggestion that the new coronavirus was comparable to the flu, after a skeptical radio host noted that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is traditionally held in the midst of flu season. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and officials say it remains unclear how far the new disease will spread.

“This isn’t the flu,” Walsh said. “This is something very different. This is something that we don’t know what the end result will be.”

As WBUR reported Monday, several conferences in Boston have also been postponed due to coronavirus fears. And as Boston enters its busy spring sports season, Walsh acknowledged the uncertainty around big events like the Boston Marathon.

A growing list of upcoming sporting events across the country and around the world, including several large marathons, have recently been canceled or postponed due to coronavirus concerns. Walsh said Tuesday that the Boston Marathon, scheduled for April 20, is “something we’re having conversations about and looking at.”

“I’m not saying we’re there yet,” he said. “I think we have many conversations to happen.”

In a statement Monday, the Boston Athletic Association said it was continuing to work with city officials to “ensure a safe and successful Boston Marathon.” During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Walsh said the race has a $211 million economic impact on Boston and raises $38 million for charity. And given its scale, he said officials would have to make a decision with significant “lead time” before the event, but didn’t commit to a specific deadline.

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“If for some reason the marathon can’t run in April, I think I’d much prefer to see a postponement than a cancellation,” Walsh said, emphasizing the economic effect of the race.

“But at the bottomline, my job as mayor, and our job as leaders, is to keep people safe,” he said Tuesday outside Boston City Hall.

Walsh also said the city was having conversations with Red Sox President Sam Kennedy about the team’s Opening Day game April 2 at Fenway Park.

“Clearly, Sam is concerned, too,” he said.

With the MLB regular season on the horizon and the NBA and NHL playoffs beginning in April, Walsh largely deferred to the leagues on any decisions. The outbreak has forced soccer leagues across Europe to play matches in empty stadiums. Walsh said that would be a “worst-case scenario.” In a joint statement Monday, the NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS announced they would be temporarily closing their clubhouses to the media as a first, if not last, step to minimize the disease’s spread.

More than 800 people in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday, including 27 who died from the disease. According to CNN, the international death toll surpassed 4,000 people Tuesday out of more than 113,000 reported cases.

Walsh said Tuesday afternoon that he didn’t want people “to be fearful, but to be cautious.”

“I hope it’s being blown out of proportion,” he said. “I hope I can stand here in three weeks and say it was completely blown out of proportion and we did all this preparation for nothing. … I’ll be happy if I have to do that. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”

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