Youngsville to hold Christmas parade, ignoring health officials

Posted December 3, 2020 9:26 a.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2020 12:46 p.m. EST

— The town of Youngsville is hosting a Christmas parade on Saturday, defying state and local health officials' recommendations.

Town officials acknowledged that local and state health officials advised them to cancel the parade, but because they had support from the community, they decided to move forward.

"We have received overwhelming support from the community to continue," town officials said in a statement. "Please know we do not take this decision lightly, and that we have carefully weighed many factors in our decision to proceed."

However, reactions from residents were mixed, from shock the parade was still happening to support for a town tradition.

"Everything else is canceled. I guess they don’t have coronavirus in Youngsville," said Robin Harris. "I think it's absolutely crazy. Why put yourself in jeopardy when we’re having a pandemic? I wouldn’t take my children to it, and I wouldn’t go to it – not right now."

"I think it’s a good thing if everybody conducts in a safe manner and spreads out socially," said Sheryl Ritchie. "Tradition has a lot to do with it. I think it’s a very good thing for tradition."

In a response to health officials, town officials argue the parade falls under the First Amendment exemption in Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order outlining pandemic restrictions.

They stated many of the participants attend local churches in the area, and that the purpose of the event is to allow Youngsville residents to "demonstrate and express their views on the reasons for the December holiday season and worship in public."

Town Administrator Phillip Cordeiro said 80 to 100 people are expected to participate in the parade, with another 150 to 300 people as spectators.

Almost 40 local businesses are planning to take part in the parade. However, no county groups like the fire department will be in it, as they are not permitted to participate.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said parades are limited to the 50-person cap on outdoor gatherings under North Carolina's coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

In emails obtained by WRAL News, Franklin County Health Department urged the town to reconsider.

Scott LaVigne, Franklin County's acting health director, wrote, "We appeal to the Town of Youngsville's primary responsibility in the matter: the safety of its residents and others who may participate in and/or attend this town-sponsored parade."

LaVigne said in a statement Friday that the health department had exhausted all authority it had to stop the parade.

In the safety plan obtained by WRAL, Youngsville officials said mask-wearing, social distancing, and the fact that 23 police officer will be on hand to enforce the rules as ways to help keep the town safe.

In addition, they urged that anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus or has come in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus not attend the parade.

According to WRAL Data Trackers, Franklin County has seen a rise in coronavirus cases since October.

"The most overwhelming factors in our decision are the sheer number of individuals that wish us to move forward and our confidence that residents will make responsible choices for themselves and their families," officials said in the statement.

Youngsville is also holding a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday night.

Oxford, in Granville County, and Four Oaks, in Johnston County, both plan on holding "reverse parades." The Christmas parades, floats and bands stand still, while town residents drive through to allow for social distancing.

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