Philadelphia Bans Mass Public Events Except Protests

Philadelphia Bans Mass Public Events Except Protests
A woman watches the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia, Penn., on March 14, 2004. City officials announced a six-month moratorium on public events on July 14, 2020. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Tom Ozimek

City officials in Philadelphia have announced a six-month freeze on all large events on public property, with the chief exception of protests, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said at a press conference Tuesday that the prohibition on gatherings over 50 people held on public property will be in effect through February 28, 2021.

“I know this news will be disappointing for many Philadelphians, it was not an easy decision to make,” Kenney said at the press conference. “But as we continue to battle COVID-19 and try to restore some sense of normalcy in our city, we know there will be many difficult decisions to come.”

Festivals, parades, concerts, carnivals, fairs, and flea markets are among the types of events that are covered by the moratorium. Gatherings related to the expression of First Amendment rights, such as protests, are exempt from the ban, Kenney said, adding that events with fewer than 25 participants held on private property will be allowed, as long as they follow public health guidelines. Also exempt from the ban are outdoor gatherings like family picnics or outdoor weddings that are not publicly advertised, provided they have fewer than 50 pre-registered guests.

Asked about enforcement, Kenney said it would be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but added that some event organizers have expressed relief at the moratorium amid concerns that proceeding with planned mass events would exacerbate the health risk.

“We would encourage people to be smart, not unsmart,” Kenney added.

Participants march in the 53rd Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 14, 2004, in Philadelphia, Penn. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Participants march in the 53rd Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 14, 2004, in Philadelphia, Penn. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

The mayor’s spokeswoman, Lauren Cox, said in an email prior to the conference that the moratorium was not intended for events held on private property.

“This is in regards to events that the City permits on public property (like parades and festivals), it does not apply to events on private property—including sports stadiums and concert venues,” Cox said.

“This moratorium is really intended for city-permitted events,” explained Brian Abernathy, Managing Director of the City of Philadelphia, in remarks at the presser.

“We’re not permitting events of 25 people or more indoors,” Abernathy added. “Similarly, private events that would be held at, say, the Philmore, is also something that we wouldn’t prohibit, although our current health guidelines would prohibit it in other ways.”

“Theaters are still to be closed under the current executive order,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Farley was asked how city officials arrived at the six-month duration of the moratorium. He replied by suggesting that a vaccine for COVID-19 was highly unlikely to be deployed within that time, adding that the city may extend the prohibition based on public health data.

Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health on Tuesday announced 148 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city, bringing the total to 27,723 infections.

Six additional deaths were also announced, bringing the total number of Philadelphia residents who succumbed to the deadly disease to 1,637.