UPDATE: Health Department Concerns Likely Derail OC’s Parade Hopes

UPDATE: Health Department Concerns Likely Derail OC’s Parade Hopes
The Ocean City Elementary School float is pictured during last year's Ocean City Christmas Parade. File Photo

OCEAN CITY — It now appears there will not be a Christmas Parade in Ocean City this year after county health officials late this week voiced concerns about the modified plan.

On Tuesday, Special Events Director Frank Miller pitched the concept of a modified Christmas Parade uptown on Coastal Highway planned for Dec. 5. The parade route would run north on Coastal Highway from Old Landing Road to 120th Street like it has for years and conclude with family-friendly activities at the Carousel Resort and Hotel. Miller said the typical high school bands and other groups will not be participating because of ongoing school closure and COVID-related issues, but there appeared to be enough interest from the private sector to move forward with the event based on polling done by city organizations.

The Mayor and Council voted 4-1 Tuesday with Councilman Dennis Dare opposed to move forward with the modified Christmas Parade on Dec. 5 with the caveat Frank Miller discuss the logistics with Worcester County Health Officer Becky Jones. Miller told the council he had not presented the specifics of the parade plans to Jones as of Tuesday because he wanted to gage the interest of the council before making the presentation to the health officer.

The conversation between the city and the health department happened on Wednesday, one day after the majority of the council approved moving forward with the parade, and Jones voiced concerns.

As a result, Frank Miller said on Wednesday it was almost a certainty the parade would not go on as planned and City Manager Doug Miller was going to poll the council to see if there was any interest in going forward despite the health officer’s concerns.

By Thursday morning, Doug Miller acknowledged Jones had concerns with certain aspects of the parade plans, but said he had not yet gaged the opinion of the Mayor and Council.

“She does have concerns, so we don’t have the green light at this point,” he said. “I don’t know if the council wants to further discuss this as this is a recent development.”

After his discussion with Jones on Wednesday, Frank Miller enumerated some of her concerns.

“Her concern is having a potentially larger crowd because so many other parades and holiday events in the area have already been postponed or cancelled,” he said. “She was not sure how we would be able to enforce social distancing and masks over a three-quarters-of-a-mile parade route.”

Frank Miller said Jones was also concerned because the Ocean City Christmas Parade is largely a local and regional event, and while the COVID numbers in the county have at least stabilized, she is concerned a large event could cause a spike.

“The risk of us creating a numbers issue could potentially affect the schools,” he said. “I spoke to the city manager and he said that’s something we probably don’t want to risk. It looks like that’s the direction we’re going to take.”

With the local school bands, cheerleaders and ROTC groups, for example, not participating this year, Frank Miller said on Tuesday he asked the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association to reach out to their members to gage the interest in filling that void with private sector entries. Frank Miller said his staff got 66 responses to that request.

Miller said 12 previous participants said they would not be participating this year. A total of 39 said they would be willing to participate, including nine new entrants, representing a 23% increase in new participants.

Of those that responded they would participate in the 2020 parade, five were vehicle clubs, seven were floats, five were other elements, 17 are vehicle-related elements and three are marching units. Miller said the anticipated cost of hosting the event is around $18,000.

When he presented to parade plans to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, Frank Miller acknowledged he had not yet received the blessing from the county health officer.

“Given how busy she is with so many things, it seems valuable to have a lot of facts in front of her when that conversation takes place,” he said.

With that said, Councilman John Gehrig made a motion to move forward with the Christmas parade with the caveat a conversation is held with the county health officer.

“I think we should proceed,” he said. “Based on the demand and the eventual conversation with the health officer, let’s move forward and celebrate Christmas.”

Of course, that conversation has now taken place and it appears Jones’ concerns will be enough to derail the parade this year. On Tuesday, the council voted 4-1 to move forward with the plan. Councilman Dennis Dare was the lone dissenting vote.

“Yesterday set a new all-time record for new cases around the country at 70,000,” he said “That topped the previous all-time record set the day before. That’s more than the peak in April. This is another example of how we send the wrong message and put wealth before health. This sends a bad message at a critical time.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.