Unfortunately, the prediction health officials made prior to Thanksgiving — a post-holiday bloom in coronavirus cases — is being fully realized nationally, in the state and in Moore County.
And after last week’s Christmas parade in Robbins — where face masks and social distance were more the exception — maybe soon even higher numbers across northern Moore.
Parades, like virtually every other annual public holiday celebration, have been shelved this year to much reluctance — but out of an abundance of caution. Local officials knew they couldn’t hold parades, tree lightings and other festivities and expect large crowds could keep apart and be counted on to wear face coverings.
Gov. Roy Cooper actually made it even easier for officials in Carthage, Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen. His most recent executive order on coronavirus restrictions prohibits outdoor “mass gatherings,” if there are more than 50 people. “This includes parades, fairs, or festivals,” the order reads.
But Robbins, trying not to disappoint its residents, decided to go its own way. The town decided to host a less-structured parade where folks could show up, stay far apart and show a little Christmas cheer.
“We just wanted to have a simple parade, that’s it,” said Town Commissioner Kevin Stewart, who took over the organizing when the Robbins Fire Rescue Department said it wouldn’t this year.
‘You Just Can’t Avoid It’
Truly, Robbins’ holiday parade was a success, filling the streets of downtown for about an hour. Folks drove tractors. Churches built floats on trailers and loaded them with riders. Others festooned their cars and trucks with holiday decorations.
Robbins is not alone in deciding to carry on with its Christmas tradition. Several other small North Carolina towns also chose to make merry rather than let the governor grinch their plans.
Youngsville, a town similar in size to Robbins and located about 20 miles outside Raleigh, had its parade last weekend. Hundreds of people attended and lined the streets, despite warnings from the Franklin County Health Department that COVID-19 cases were soaring.
Youngsville officials pledged their event was different, that it would be safe and small. Like Robbins.
Carthage, just down the road a bit from Robbins, is also small. But Tom Robinson, the Carthage town manager, foresaw the problem back in October when he recommended not holding this year’s holiday parade.
“I personally have concerns about putting members of our police department, public works and administrative staff out there,” he said. “You’re going to have some crowds of people; you just can’t avoid it. I think that we could be subjecting (town employees) to a higher risk than I would recommend.”
Neither Safe Nor Small
With Christmas just over two weeks away, we are recording numbers and rates of infection not seen since the pandemic began.
This past weekend was an eye-opener for North Carolina. Before we could even process hitting the previously unthinkable 5,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 infections, the state on Saturday recorded 6,018 cases — and then topped that on Sunday by another 400.
In Moore County, we enjoyed a relatively “quiet” November. Exactly one month ago, we stood at just 128 active cases and posted some of our lowest infection rates: a seven-day average of just 13.6 cases and a positivity test rate of 4.8 percent.
As of the end of the day Monday, Moore County had four times the number of active cases from a month ago. Its seven-day average of new cases is almost 64, and 10 percent of all new tests are coming back as positive.
COVID-19 is blooming across North Carolina, and taking an especially large toll on rural communities who have always thought themselves “safe and small.”
This, then, was the situation as folks across northern Moore turned out last Thursday night on the streets of Robbins for a Christmas parade that was neither safe nor small.