CORONAVIRUS

For first time in 45 years, SaPaDaPaSo parade canceled in Cedar Rapids, on coronavirus fears

Streets were crowded during the 44th annual SaPaDaPaSo parade in downtown Cedar Rapids on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2
Streets were crowded during the 44th annual SaPaDaPaSo parade in downtown Cedar Rapids on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2019. This year’s parade had over 90 float or walking entries and hosted thousands of spectators. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)

The 45th annual SaPaDaPaSo parade, a Cedar Rapids St. Patrick’s Day tradition, has been canceled due to fears about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. It had been scheduled for downtown Cedar Rapids on March 17.

SaPaDaPaSo — which stands for Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Society — is put on entirely by volunteers who are members of a nonprofit organization. The first parade was held in 1976, and this is the first time it has been canceled.

“In 45 years, we’ve never not had it. We’ve had sleet, hail, rain, you name it,” society president Carol Bryant said.

But fears about the virus have done what bad weather could not. Iowa had 13 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported as of Tuesday. Most of the state’s cases are in Johnson County and are linked to a group of older adults who were on the same Egyptian cruise.

“We just felt it was the safest thing to do to not have a crowd right now. We just didn’t want to be responsible for someone getting sick. We’ll just be on the safe side,” Bryant said.

She said she spoke with officials at Linn County Public Health and with the city government on Tuesday, and they told her the decision was up to the SaPaDaPaSo committee. She said she was told by Linn County Public Health that people should avoid events with indoor crowds. Bryant said though this is an outdoor event, they decided to err on the side of caution.

“What if it was our grandmother or our grandchild that came to the parade to watch and ended up very sick? That would be devastating for any of us,” she said.

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Parade organizers are sending out an email to parade participants, and full refunds will be offered. A parade after party at the East Bank venue also has been canceled.

Bryant said the parade will not be rescheduled, but that organizers are hoping a new event, a 5K run the society is planning, will still happen in September.

Tycoon still will open

At the Tycoon, the bar at 427 Second Ave. SE that only opens three times a year, including St. Patrick’s Day, the plan is for the party to go on.

Owner Kurt Luedtke said he has invested “a substantial amount of money” in beer and event license fees that he does not believe are refundable. He also owns the bar Fat Wally’s in the basement of that building and said it is hard for business owners like him to know what they’re supposed to do to react to the virus in a rapidly changing situation.

“It’s no mans land. You don’t know what’s really going on. The information from the news media seems to come out differently every day. You don’t know exactly where you stand or what precautions to take,” he said. “Does anybody have a clear picture on what to do?”

He said he would like the government to issue clear guidelines — beyond advice to wash your hands.

“I’m calling it the paranoia plague. The way it’s being presented, it causes anxiety and questioning — where should I go, who should I be around, what should I do?” he said. “It kind of reminds me of the Flood — nobody knew what to do. People were caught off guard by it and had a lack of knowledge of how to handle it.”

He previously worked as a respiratory therapist in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics intensive care unit, so he knows how serious such things can be. He said at Tycoon and at Fat Wally’s he is only using single use plastic cups for sanitary reasons and making sure the businesses are stocked up on soap and hand sanitizer, which was already his standard practice.

He still plans to open at 8 a.m. on March 17, though he isn’t sure what kind of turnout he’ll get without parade spectators. He said people have to make their own choice about whether they want to go out or stay home.

“In the end, will it be a fun time, or will it be a time you will regret?” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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