Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parades, river dyeing postponed amid coronavirus concerns; NBA suspends season, other teams consider playing without fans

ByCate Cauguiran, Liz Nagy, and Jesse Kirsch WLS logo
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade canceled amid COVID-19 fears
Recommendations from public health officials to avoid large gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19 prompted officials in Chicago to cancel the St. Patrick's Day parades and

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parades and river dyeing have been postponed as the number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois has climbed to 25. The effects of the virus' spread are also starting to impact sports leagues.

Governor JB Pritzker announced six new cases of the novel coronavirus in Illinois Thursday; five in Chicago or Cook County and one in Lake County. All are in isolation, either at home or in a hospital, health officials said. Of the 25 total positive tests in Illinois, two patients so far have made a complete recovery.

St. Patrick's Day festivities bring hundreds of thousands of people downtown every year, with the downtown parade and river dyeing. But concerns over spreading COVID-19 led to the postponement, according to the parade's website.

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The South Side Irish parade in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood as well as the Northwest Side Irish Parade have also been postponed.

"The health and safety of Chicago's residents will always be our highest priority and like many other cities across the nation and globe, we are postponing this year's parade as a precautionary measure to prevent any additional spread of COVID-19," said Mayor Lightfoot.

Mayor Lightfoot said they will work with officials to possibly reschedule events for a later date.

The decision comes following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts, the mayor's office said.

"We all know what the St. Patrick's Day celebrations mean to us in the city of Chicago - but as elected leaders, we can't take any chances with the health of our residents," said Governor JB Pritzker. "Because of what we've seen nationally and across the world of the increased risk of large gatherings, this was the right call and I thank Mayor Lightfoot for her leadership in this difficult situation. Now that we've reached the stage where we're seeing regular new cases-reflecting additional spread within our communities-we have to make every effort to minimize further spread."

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Kari McClowry, who was crowned as this year's parade queen, said "it's important we're taking necessary precautions but it's also a big letdown."

"The Irish are very strong people," said Maureen Meenan, the 1968 parade's queen. "They never get knocked down. They always get up. Go forward and look for the best."

WATCH: St. Patrick's Day celebration organizers, participants disappointed but understanding about cancellation

Organizers and participants in this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities are disappointed that the parades have been canceled, but understand it's important for public health.

Many are considering when to reschedule, such as a "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" parade.

"We're a little sad," said Shannon Rovers Pipe Sgt. Brian Costello. "It's kind of like a little kid saying that they just canceled Christmas."

John Di Prima and his staff at Lizzie McNeil's have planned for the downtown parade for months.

"This is one of our busiest days of the year, so it's definitely going to take a toll on our business and a lot of the other businesses," he said.

Old St. Pat's Church's first annual Shamrock'n the Block has also been postponed, the church said, in light of the mayor's decision to cancel official festivities. They said all tickets purchased will be honored at the rescheduled event.

State and local leaders continue to stress that the general public is still at a low risk of contracting the new coronavirus. But because of the massive scale of these festivities, which draw more than a million people in close proximity, leaders determined allowing the events to go on would be an unnecessary risk.

"These are uncharted waters, and to make this decision is the right decision for citizens of Chicago and people of the state of Illinois," said James Coyne, business manager for Plumber Local 130.

The members of Plumber Local 130 have been in charge of dyeing the river green for decades. Coyne said they stand behind the city's decision.

"How I have our staff from the Plumbers Hall answer the phone is that the plumbers protect the health of the nation. I think that statement is paramount in what we're doing today," he said.

Officials said people can gather at bars, but stressed that they should use good judgement, remember to cover coughs, wash your hands and keep social distancing.

Di Parma, whose pub sits along the Riverwalk, said this is a loss he's willing to take if it means the safety of others.

"We're just going to see the next day or two and try to get things as best we can," he said. "It's all kind of up in the air."

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As for other large gatherings, like sporting events, the mayor said conversations are ongoing, with each event being assessed by its individual circumstances.

Lightfoot said public transit is still safe and that trains and buses are getting extra cleaning.

For now, city and state leaders are reminding the public if you are sick stay home and if you are over the age of 60 or have underlying health issues, avoid large gatherings of any kind.

WATCH: St. Patrick's Day celebrations postponed in Chicago

Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parades and river dyeing have been postponed as the number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois has climbed to 19.

Naperville also decided to cancel its St. Patrick's Day Parade and 5K.

"Out of an abundance of caution for the health of our community and to eliminate unnecessary risk for the public, the City of Naperville is canceling the St. Patrick's Day Parade and 5K run scheduled for this Saturday, March 14," the city said in a statement. "The City will work with the organizers to find a possible date to hold these events in the future."


The NBA suspended its season until further notice after a player tested positive for coronavirus, and fans of all leagues may soon not be allowed to attend games.

Chicago's professional sports teams are reviewing whether they should keep hosting games with fans in the stands, but the NBA took action Wednesday night after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus, suspending the season until further notice.

Word spread fast among fans trickling out of the United Center after the Blackhawks game.

"Better they overreact than not react enough," said Brad Cesario, fan. "I don't know what the right answer is."

"The NBA is just a very big exclamation point to it all. Like, wow, this is a real thing," said Darius Griffin, fan.

The Hawks game went on as scheduled, and the NHL said it is still considering its options and expected to give an update Thursday.

Gov. Pritzker stressed state health officials were in close contact with area sports teams about the potential of canceling games.

"We are talking to the team owners. I'm also reaching out to the leagues themselves," he said earlier Wednesday. "We'll be discussing this with the City of Chicago, with the teams and leagues and making some decisions in the near future."

The NCAA has banned most fans from attending the men's and women's basketball team, saying in a statement, "the decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans, and most importantly, our student-athletes."

Gail Doherty, manager of the Billy Goat Tavern, said while she understands safety is the top priority, it could have a big impact on their business. The bar, which is famous for their burgers, is a popular place for Hawks and Bulls fans.

"We are the last stop before the United Center, so we do get busy. We do depend on those," she said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Governor Pritzker also called on the CDC to give greater clarity on what a mass gathering is and what the cut off should be for how many people can come together.

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The Illinois Department of Public Health has created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website.