Franklin County health director slams Youngsville’s decision to hold Christmas parade Saturday

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LOUISBURG, N.C. (WNCN) – Franklin County Health Director Scott LaVigne slammed the Town of Youngsville’s decision to hold a Christmas parade on Saturday in a press release sent to CBS 17 on Friday.

According to LaVigne, Franklin County has added 1,062 new cases in the past month, which nearly doubles the total number of cases reported in the previous seven months. The county now has more residents currently battling the virus “than ever before during the entire pandemic’s history in Franklin County.”

With that information as the backdrop, LaVigne said in the release that “most leaders weighed the risks to the health and safety of those who might attend and participate in their (holiday) events, and decided that even with enhanced measures, the risks simply did not outweigh the benefits” and canceled or altered the Holiday events.

The Town of Youngsville did not.

The Franklin County Health Department specifically thanked the towns of Bunn, Franklinton, and Louisburg for taking action to keep residents safe by canceling or altering their holiday events.

Thursday evening, the Town of Youngsville released a video in which Mayor Fonzie Flowers explained the decision to move forward with the event.

He first said that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or lives with anyone exhibiting symptoms should quarantine appropriately. He also said anyone who wouldn’t feel safe at the parade should stay home.

Flowers further explained that social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing, and masks are all expected.

“The town is confident our community can work together and observe public health best practices to have a safe Christmas parade,” Flowers said.

Flowers further justified the decision in saying that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines permits hundreds or thousands of people to be inside some larger grocery stores.

“Our parade is the exact opposite: outdoors, physically distanced, and masked,” Flowers said. “To put it simply, if our state’s health guidelines allow over 2,000 people to be in a 4-acre Walmart at the same time, we believe it’s safe to have a fraction of that number along our outdoor parade route.”

Despite those arguments, LaVigne said that there’s no such thing as “safe” when it comes to a mass-gathering event during a pandemic.

According to LaVigne and the health department, “words like ‘safe’ cannot be credibly applied to a mass-gathering event” when “there is documented widespread, dramatically-increasing community virus-transmission” and where safety measures are not enforced but “rely too heavily on the ‘goodwill’ of participants to comply with recommendations.

LaVigne said that based on the county’s COVID-19 metrics, a Christmas parade would be categorized as a high-risk activity.

The virus data has been provided to the Town of Youngsville and the health department has urged town leadership to cancel their parade. Despite that, LaVigne wrote, “The Town of Youngsville has declined to do so.”

The Franklin County Health Department has asked for, and received, additional guidance on ways to allow the parade to go forward within the revised guidance and in a way that is safer than what the town proposed but “the town has declined,” the release states.

“Since the pandemic began, the Governor’s Executive orders have been enforced by local law-enforcement. The Town of Youngsville has elected not to enforce the Governor’s executive order,” LaVigne wrote in the press release.

According to LaVigne, “The Franklin County Health Department has exhausted all measures we have in our ‘tool-box’ given the limits of our authority, the regulations under which the Health Department operates, and our department’s ongoing efforts to investigate new cases, test all regardless of ability to pay, and to prepare for the distribution of the virus vaccine.”

The health department is ready and willing to help the Town of Youngsville abide by Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders to operate their Christmas parade in a safe manner, LaVigne wrote.

“It is unfortunate that at this time it appears the Town of Youngsville has elected to move forward with their parade,” LaVigne wrote. “It is our fervent hope that no one contracts the virus as a direct or indirect result of this parade.”

According to LaVigne, “With the estimated 100-300 participants planning on attending this event as spectators…and with the number of participants both in the staging areas and marching in the parade, the virus-math says even with strong adherence to wearing face covergins and remaining distant, this event can and most likely will promote far more than the Spirit of Christmas in Franklin County.”

The Youngsville Christmas Parade is set to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.

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