Organizers of Anniston's annual Veterans Day parade announced this week that this year's parade is canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.
Safety for parade participants is the main concern, organizer Linda Peters said, but uncertainty is also an issue. No one knows how serious the COVID-19 situation will be two months from now.
"Many of the folks who come to the parade or are part of the parade are elderly," Peters noted.
Peters, chairperson of the Calhoun County Veterans Organization, has been organizing parades in Anniston since 2005. She said the event grows from year to year, though it's still not quite the size of the parades the city had before the closure of Fort McClellan, the Army base that was here for much of the 20th century.
She described the parade as an event "for the little guy," drawing on and highlighting local veterans, while larger cities' parades draw famous names and dignitaries. For years, the county's surviving Pearl Harbor veterans served as grand marshals of the event.
Peters said she doesn't see social distancing as a problem for parade spectators, as there is plenty of space on the sidewalk. Parade participants, on the other hand, would likely have to gather in tight groups and possibly be exposed to the virus, she said.
COVID-19 isn't surging here in the way it did in July and early August, but the disease is still spreading. Calhoun County sees more than 30 new confirmed cases on the average day, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and at least 31 people have died of the virus. Statewide, the death toll is 2,333.
Public health officials in recent weeks have warned of a possible second wave of coronavirus in coming months as schools reopen and fall weather arrives. The Institute for Health Metric and Evaluation at the University of Washington currently projects 6,174 deaths from the virus in Alabama by Jan. 1.
Veterans advocate Ken Rollins, who organizes an annual Veterans Day ceremony at the veterans memorial on Quintard Avenue, said he is keeping an eye on the virus numbers. If the state is still under a mask mandate by mid-October — a sign that the virus is still a serious concern — he expects the event to be canceled.
"We've put up to 700 people up there," he said of the plaza at the memorial. "If you have even half that, you're elbow-to-elbow."
Peters said that in the absence of a parade, people should consider holding smaller, private events to honor veterans on Nov. 11.
“If you've got a parent or a close neighbor who’s a veteran, take them a lunch or call them and thank them,” she said.