TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Tybee Island City Council voted Thursday night to keep the Irish Heritage parade on track this weekend, as cities across the world are cancelling their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations amid concerns about COVID-19.
First, the Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade was called off, then Hilton Head Island followed in suit, but the Tybee Island City Council has voted to move forward with their Irish Heritage Parade plans.
Tensions were high as the Tybee Island residents weighed in before the council voted on whether they would cancel their St. Patrick's Day festivities.
Some residents spoke in favor of having the parade.
“You have to be mindful of your own health and safety anyway, so you can do that on Saturday,” one resident said.
Others were against the public gathering.
"I'm not really pro this parade this year. We can have one next year. I understand that if your Irish, it's your heritage, it's what you want to do."
The council members also expressed their mixed feelings.
“Tybee does not have any medical facilities. We have none. Tybee does have an older population, including two elder care facilities," said Tybee Island City Councilman Monty Parks. "I think to invite a possible 30,000 people into our community this weekend poses an unnecessary risk to our residents and businesses.”
City of Tybee Mayor Pro Tem Barry Brown disagreed.
“I think this is everybody running scared for nothing. It appalls- it amazes me how much people are scared of something they can’t even see.”
The council voted in favor of having the parade three to two. Councilman Jay Burke recused himself, because he is part of the committee.
Mayor Shirley Sessions said she backs the council and their decision, noting that the Tybee Irish Heritage Parade is typically a small one.
“It’s a very, very difficult time that we’re all seeing, and government’s role is public safety, and I applaud the cities that have taken a strong stand to cancel parades, to cancel events is not an easy decision. Tybee made the decision based on what they thought was the best thing for Tybee.”
Because other cities have canceled their parades, Tybee is preparing for an even bigger crowd.
"We also have all of our fire department on call and ready to go for Saturday in case they have to take over and help with maybe some traffic control things while police are running on police calls or something. We have all hands on deck,” City Manager Shawn Gillen said.
The police chief has been asking other jurisdictions for help. They say they expect to have a few Georgia State Patrol troopers on the island. The volunteer firefighters have also been told to be ready to possibly get called in.
"We are doing everything. We're working 24 hours,” Mayor Sessions said.
Gillen says as of right now, there won't be any special traffic protocols in place, but that people should expect it to be as busy as any other summer day.
"We were planning on a lot of people, parade or no parade,” Gillen said.
Gillen says now they're really focused on how to get everything set up keeping the public works crews' safety in mind.
"We've got these new barricades we have along the parade route and one of those things with handling all of those barricades is that we want to make sure they're wiped down with bleach solution prior to picking them up. That's going to take so long, so we may change, slightly, how many barricades we put out."
Mayor Sessions says she wants everyone to be smart and cognizant of others.
"Those who do come, we hope that they will be mindful of finding a way to communicate with people without hand contact,” Sessions said.
The 18th annual Tybee Island Irish Heritage Parade will be held on Saturday, March 14 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. It is free and open to the public. The route begins Tybee City Hall and proceeds down Butler Avenue to Tybrisa Street.