COVID-19 the grinch that stole Parade of Lights

By Adam Strunk

COVID-19 claimed Newton’s Parade of Lights or at least dissuaded participants hoping to limit exposure to the disease.

For 21 years, area organizations, businesses and individuals have constructed lighted floats to be displayed during a parade around the Christmas holiday. That won’t be the case in 2020.

“A lot of the groups participating year after year have told us they were short staffed, limiting in-person activities and not trying to have staff members mingle,” said Erin McDaniel of the Newton Lion’s Club, which organizes the parade.

She said a shortage of entrants made the group decide to cancel the event.

“We had 10 organizations sign up to participate,” she said. “Normally we would have 40 to 50 organizations.”

The cancellation follows last year’s parade that served as a high-water mark for the event, drawing an estimated 2,500 to the downtown and lasting nearly an hour.

“We had great weather last year and huge turnout of the public and huge floats,” McDaniel said of the event.

With COVID-19 spread uncontrolled in Harvey County, organizers opted to avoid crowds for 2020 and instead organized the parade so the floats would be stationary in Athletic Park and people could drive through and look at the floats.

However, even with those precautions, there was still hesitancy around participating for many traditional float makers.

“People are trying to limit the exposures,” she said. “We understand that.”

McDaniel said that the City of Newton, for instance, which featured floats in last year’s parade, didn’t want to mix groups of staff to work on the project to avoid shortages and illness.

“You try to keep each work group isolated so that if you do happen to have someone who tests positive, the potential exposure to that person is limited,” she explained.

Currently, in Harvey County, the health department lists 490 residents with active COVID-19 cases. Twenty-eight are hospitalized. Fifteen have died. In total, 1,517 people had positive tests for the disease as of Nov. 29.

The county put in place an order last week limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer in order to try to slow the spread, and Newton Medical Center, the Harvey County Health Department and others are undertaking a campaign, pleading with residents to do what they can to slow the spread of the disease and prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.

In its most recent release, the Kansas Hospital Association reported that the intensive care unit capacity in south central Kansas was down to 20 beds, or seven percent.

McDaniel said that the Newton Lion’s Club regrets not being able to host the event this year.

“We feel bad about it,” she said. “People seemed excited about it. I know everyone’s hungry for Christmas cheer.”