Youngsville Christmas Parade goes on despite pleas from COVID-19 experts, outdoor gathering limits

YOUNGSVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Youngsville Christmas Parade went on as scheduled Saturday, after multiple pleas and warnings from health officials as well as an emergency meeting Friday.

Franklin County Health Director Scott LaVigne spoke Friday after an emergency meeting held as a last ditch effort to stop the parade.

LaVigne said he was frustrated about the whole thing. He called the parade a "high risk" event and warned this could exacerbate the problem for health care providers.

Hundreds showed up Saturday to the parade.

Among them was Aaron Gillingham, of Wake Forest, who drove to Youngsville with his friends to support Mayor Fonzie Flowers' decision.

"I think it was awesome," said Gillingham.

The parade route appeared crowded but Gillingham and his group kept their distance, choosing not to wear masks.

Health leaders worry that logic could cause a COVID-19 spike in Youngsville.

"We have tested children as young as 4 years old who are positive. We've seen 35 people in our county die from the virus. We have seen thousands infected. It will strain an already strained health department," said LaVigne

Mayor Fonzie Flowers disagreed saying, "If a Wal-Mart, a Target, a Lowe's, a Home Depot--if they can have the number of people they have in their store in an enclosed environment, we can certainly have a couple hundred Youngsville residents along our parade route."

"I felt perfectly safe. Absolutely. More than six feet apart," said Gillingham. "It's been a tough year for everyone so I think that we need to remember that kindness is important."



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Youngsville and Franklin County officials will hold an emergency meeting Friday morning as some representatives are doubling down on holding a much-anticipated Christmas parade this weekend.

As of Thursday night, the parade was still on as scheduled for Saturday morning despite calls from county and state health officials to cancel the event. If held, the parade may draw a large crowd given that it would be the only in-person Christmas parade in the area. The potential large gathering has many health experts and county officials concerned.

The risk of spreading COVID-19 has become even more serious in recent days with the state breaking single-day records for new cases and hospitalizations Thursday. Those increases also come as health officials brace for an even more precipitous increase in the wake of Thanksgiving gatherings.

Franklin County Health Department said it submitted two requests to cancel the parade. Neither were successful.

The Town of Youngsville mayor, Fonzie Flowers, responded to a health advisory Thursday night by saying, "If a Wal-Mart, a Target, a Lowe's, a Home Depot--if they can have the number of people they have in their store in an enclosed environment, we can certainly have a couple hundred Youngsville residents along our parade route."

Flowers said he's very much aware that the pandemic is ongoing but believes it has been a rough year and hopes that the Christmas parade serves as a beacon of hope.

"At the end of the day, we're trying to do something positive and trying to make a difference and give people hope," Flowers said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the director of the Franklin County Health Department sent another request to the Town of Youngsville, urging town officials to cancel the Christmas parade planned for the morning of December 5.

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The Town of Youngsville mayor said he's very much aware that the pandemic is ongoing but believes it has been a rough year and hopes that the Christmas parade serves as a beacon of hope.



It was the second such letter sent by Health Director Scott LaVigne -- the first of which was sent over Thanksgiving weekend.

The original letter asked the town to provide a plan to the health department that showed how the parade would be held in compliance with guidance on limiting the spread of COVID-19. It said that, if the town did not provide a plan, the health department may be forced to invoke the Public Health Imminent Hazard Abatement Order to put a stop to the parade.

Wednesday's letter said: "We would once again urge the Town of Youngsville to reconsider (the decision to hold the parade) and to either cancel this parade or significantly alter it to conform with additional guidance..."

The health department asked for an estimate for the number of spectators, a list of parade participant organizations, a written plan for how the town will ensure face coverings are worn and a written plan for how the town will ensure spectators socially distance.

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The Youngsville Christmas Parade looks to be set in stone for this weekend, according to the Youngsville mayor, despite calls from county health officials to cancel the event.



The town board of commissioners announced earlier this week that it was still planning to move forward with the parade while incorporating "a variety of COVID-19 mitigation measures."

The board said the decision came after "overwhelming support from the community to continue."

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported a record-high number of COVID-19 cases in the state on Thursday -- with 5,637.

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The town urged people with COVID-19 symptoms or those who are high-risk or live with someone who is high-risk to stay at home and not attend the parade.

People who attend the parade were asked to socially distance and wear a face covering.

"To those with continued reservations, we would like to share that - when using the standards established in our governor's executive orders regarding the square-foot-per-person limits for retail stores - the "capacity" of our 18.2-acre parade route would be over five times the population of Youngsville," the board said. "Thus, we're confident that when parade goers observe physical distancing and spread-out along the parade route (along with observing all other guidelines), we will have a safe and successful parade."

The governor's current order limits outdoor gatherings to 50.
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