ERWIN — The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen has given its blessing for this year’s Christmas Parade to proceed with special COVID-19 safety precautions.
In a unanimous vote on Monday, the board authorized the street closing needed for the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored parade to step off on Saturday, Nov. 28.
The vote followed weeks of planning of precautionary measures for the parade and the town’s annual Christmas Tree lighting festivities initially set out by the chamber at the board’s Sept. 29 meeting and follow-up workshop with the board and chamber considering what more could be done to protect the public.
Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp reviewed the revisions prior to the board’s vote on Monday.
In addition to measures discussed at the board’s last meeting, Delp said the chamber would enforce a strict Nov. 20 deadline for registration of vendors, coordinate broader disbursement of parade viewers with businesses along the 1.9-mile parade route, limit parade entries to one entry per organization while allowing more than one vehicle per entry in order to reduce the number of people riding in or on each vehicle.
Safety measures previously set out by the chamber include a reduction in the number of people allowed to ride on floats, prohibiting parade participants from throwing candy or other items to the crowd, increasing the distances between parade entries during lineup and breakdown and adding more parade managers to help ensure safety rules are followed.
Delp previously told the board efforts will be made to discourage parade viewers from congregating at intersections, to encourage people to watch from inside their vehicles where possible and to live stream the parade for those who wish to watch from home.
In a discussion of plans for the town’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting festivities, Delp began by saying, “Obviously I want to do it,” but acknowledged the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and a request for the board’s thoughts on the event.
Mayor Doris Hensley said the town will not open its town hall building for the event and expressed concern for the safety of the public works department employees who work the event.
“It’s your event and it’s your decision but the numbers are on the rise and they are expected to get worse,” Hensley said. “For myself, and I think I speak for the entire board, safety comes first.”
Vice Mayor Mark Lefever said he was concerned for possible spread of the virus as people touched things getting on and off the horse-drawn wagon ride through downtown and a desire for a prolonged blast of communication to inform the public of what safety precautions would be expected of them at the event.
Delp said she felt the celebration needed to be scaled back and asked the board “at this point” to grant permission only to light the Christmas tree at town hall at 6 p.m. on Dec. 4without authorizing further plans for the celebration.
The board granted the request by unanimous vote.
In other business the board voted to accept a $65,000 bid for the installation of a new swimming pool liner at Fishery Park.
The vote followed the board’s Sept. 29 acceptance of Summers-Taylor bid for up to $1.05 million in new pavement for a prioritized list of Erwin streets. Town Recorder Travis Bishop said the budgeted funding may complete 14 or 15 of the 19 streets on the list.