Four dozen deaths and more than 2,000 coronavirus infections throughout 49 states were not enough to deter St. Patrick’s Day party-goers from flocking together for large public gatherings on Saturday in defiance of guidelines from public officials hoping to stop the spread of a pandemic.
Nor were warnings from health officials that the novel coronavirus could wipe out many of the most vulnerable members of the population.
“I’m not about to put my life on hold because this is going around,” one reveler, identified as a nurse from Colorado, told The Chicago Sun Times. “I’m being careful, I’ve got my hand sanitizer, and I’m washing my hands,” Kyle Thomas was quoted as saying.
While Chicago and many other cities canceled their annual St. Patrick’s Day parades in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, many privately organized events and pub crawls went ahead as planned—with revelers apparently indifferent to or disdainful of authorities’ pleas to avoid crowded gatherings that could send infection rates soaring and cost lives.
Even as revelers in Chicago began celebrations on Saturday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker spelled out for the public the dire consequences of ignoring calls for “social distancing.”
“You can have the unintended tragic effect of spreading COVID-19 to others who are more vulnerable,” Pritzker said.
The novel coronavirus has already claimed nearly 6,000 lives worldwide, and while experts say most of those infected will recover, the most vulnerable members of the population—those with underlying health conditions or over the age of 60—face a potential death sentence if infected.
“We will see more cases and we will see more suffering and death, predominantly… among the vulnerables in our society, the individuals with the conditions that we spoke to and the elderly,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters on Saturday.
Shortly after state officials in Louisiana announced the state’s first death from the virus and the number of infections doubled on Saturday, police in New Orleans were forced to break up a huge St. Patrick’s Day gathering that had gone ahead despite the governor banning large gatherings.
“This is irresponsible, potentially endangering the entire community,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted.
Similar mass gatherings were reported in several other major large cities, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Boston, where authorities are taking the pandemic so seriously they postponed the Boston Marathon. Pittsburgh and Boston have both seen surges in coronavirus infections in recent days, and Baltimore authorities confirmed the first case in the city on Saturday.
While bars and restaurants in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and other cities reportedly took special precautions for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations—offering plenty of hand sanitizer to guests, limiting occupancy, and performing intensive cleaning—it remains unclear how helpful that will be in the face of a virus that experts now believe can linger in the air for several hours.
Photos from a Chicago neighborhood where a pub crawl was underway on Saturday showed dozens of young revelers standing together in close contact. As the Sun Times noted, despite a hand sanitizer station on the sidewalk, “hardly anyone was using it.”