Freeman Health System and the city of Joplin have canceled the Joplin Christmas parade, which was to take place on Dec. 1, because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We are sad to cancel it, but feel citizens are being responsible in their actions by avoiding gathering due to the pandemic,” said Paula F. Baker, president and CEO of Freeman, the parade host, in a statement.

The parade was initially planned as a drive-thru event on Dec. 1. Entries such as floats and marching bands would remain stationary, lining Main Street, while spectators drove through the route in their vehicles.

The decision to cancel the parade wasn't a response to the city's mask order, which went into effect last week after a 6-3 vote of the Joplin City Council and requires residents, with a few exceptions, to wear masks in public businesses and spaces. Instead, parade organizers were concerned with the safety of those who would participate on floats and in other entries, said Ryan Melton, director of service excellence at Freeman and chairman of the parade committee.

"The format change (to a drive-thru event) did not give us enough public safety to protect the entrants," he said. "That's what this decision came down to."

Moreover, many of the core parade entrants — local churches and businesses, for example — are still working remotely or not meeting in person due to the pandemic, adding to their difficulty in putting together parade floats, Melton said.

"Similarly with many of the core entries, children-related programs" were a concern, he said, noting that groups such as Boy and Girl Scouts, gymnastics teams and school-based clubs often participate in the parade. "Limiting the time at which kids are together in groups is something that was important to each of the groups we talked to."

Mayor Ryan Stanley said he hopes the city will partner with Freeman again next year for the parade.

“We truly appreciate the staff members of Freeman who have worked on this project this year and in prior years,” he said in a statement. “Their initiative to bring the parade to the public in such a challenging year demonstrates their commitment to bring a quality event to our citizens. They share our community spirit, and it is our goal to partner again with Freeman Health System to have the parade next year.”

At the time of the announcement on Tuesday afternoon of the parade's cancellation, the city of Joplin reported 322 active cases of COVID-19 and 94 patients hospitalized with the virus at Joplin's hospitals, according to the city's dashboard. The city had reported 60 total deaths of Joplin residents from COVID-19.

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.