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Fat Tuesday crowds in Mobile a threat for spreading virus

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Health officials and leaders in Mobile are urging people to follow pandemic safety guidelines as a subdued Mardi Gras season comes to an end on the coast minus big parades but with crowds still possible.

Parades that typically draw thousands and massive balls were canceled in Mobile because of the coronavirus threat this year. But officials there didn’t take the extra step of closing restaurants and bars, as was done in New Orleans to keep down crowds.

With the end of the carnival season approaching on Fat Tuesday, Alabama’s top state health official, Dr. Scott Harris, said he was worried that what celebrations do occur would lead to further spread of the virus even without traditional activities.

“There’s nothing magic about it being a parade format versus, you know, milling around in the street together without a parade format,” he said Friday. “I think both of those certainly have the potential for disease transmission, for sure.”

Anticipating the possibility that people will still come out to celebrate, Mobile is shutting down streets in a large part of its downtown to allow people room to spread out on Tuesday.

“We just hope people will do the right thing,” he said. “We are so close to being done with this.”

The Mobile County Health Department said inspectors will be out through Fat Tuesday to make sure that health codes are being followed. A statewide order requires face masks inside buildings and even outdoors when people can’t stay away from each other, but enforcement is rare and many ignore the rules.

In the tiny Baldwin County city of Elberta, officials decided to stage a Mardi Gras parade despite the pandemic. Vicky Norris, a member of the town council, told WALA-TV the event planned for Saturday was needed for the sake of mental health.

“We’re a small town, we’re a community, but we call each other family, and we bond like a family, and family has been torn apart by this pandemic,” said Norris.

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