Citing safety, North Adams, Adams bow out of wave parades

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NORTH ADAMS — At first it seemed like a good idea, but then reality set in.

When the pandemic arrived with the associated shutdowns and social distancing, families of youngsters with a birthday coming up lamented their inability to throw a party. So as a gesture to celebrate the big day, a drive-by parade of police cars and possibly some friends would cruise by the house as the child stood in the front yard and waved.

If everyone stayed in their cars and those on the ground practiced good social distancing, the theory went, what harm could it be?

But with humans being social animals, apparently these activities have caused some congregating that could potentially be a dangerous opportunity for the COVID-19 virus to spread.

So last week, North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, after consulting with public safety leadership and others in the city administration, said the city would no longer participate.

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"We discontinued the practice of allowing our first responder vehicles to participate in drive-by parades," Bernard said. "Our first priority has to be the safety of our residents — especially the younger [and the] more vulnerable residents. And the best way to keep everyone safe is to not give the virus to other people."

The practice has been on display in communities across the Berkshires amid the coronavirus crisis. The Eagle has covered similar parades in Lenox and Lanesborough as recently as last weekend.

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But Bernard stressed that ignoring the social distancing and the stay-at-home recommendations is putting people at risk and putting the health care system at risk of being overwhelmed, and probably extending the amount of time the social distancing will have to go on.

"We did not make this decision callously — drive-by parades are just not consistent with social distancing," Bernard said. "We can't wait to get back to normalcy, but we're not going to be able to do that if we don't beat this virus. The message is stay at home."

In Adams, Jay Green, town administrator, is of the same mind.

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"Our goal is for people to lie as low as possible," Green said. "Now is not the time to ease up on our diligence — we're in the eye of the hurricane, as Gov. [Charlie] Baker said."

Both leaders agreed that when this crisis has passed, they would rather have been overly cautious than not cautious enough.

Green said that if a birthday parade is requested of the first responder agencies, they would be denied in almost all cases.

"It's a difficult balance — you have keep spirits up, but the risks have to be evaluated," he said. "I mean, we would look at it, but our proclivity would be to deny such a request. And at this point, that is a pretty hefty burden to overcome."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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