Alabama city throws ‘Tardy Gras’ parade as pandemic ebbs

MOBILE, Ala. — With both COVID-19 hospitalizations and vaccinations ebbing, Alabama’s port city is putting on a Mardi Gras-style parade that will feel at least a little like the Carnival celebrations that were canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic.

Plastic beads and other trinkets will fly as nearly 30 floats from Mardi Gras groups snake through downtown Mobile on Friday night with high school marching bands, squeals and blaring speakers providing a soundtrack for the party, which coincides with a ship commissioning. Tens of thousands of spectators are expected.

“With so much interest we could have had more if space would allow, but parades can only be so long,” said Judi Gulledge, who is coordinating the event.

It’s definitely not a Mardi Gras parade: Those can only be held during Mardi Gras, the period before Lent. But it will feel a lot like one, which is a big part of the goal after months of lockdowns, illness, deaths and face masks. Call it Tardy Gras, perhaps.

“During the past 14 months to 16 months or so it’s been very difficult to make it all work, but this is a real blessing,” Stephen Toomey, who owns a Mardi Gras supply company, told WALA-TV.

Statewide hospitalizations from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, are at the lowest point since April 2020, although more than 11,000 have died in Alabama and more than 540,000 have been infected. With only about a quarter of the state’s population fully vaccinated, the state’s immunization rate has trailed the nation for months.

Vaccination rates in Mobile County roughly mirror those of the state, with about 25% of the area’s more than 400,000 residents immunized. Unless large numbers of people break the state’s established pattern and heed the latest federal guidelines about face masks, large numbers of unvaccinated, unmasked people could clog the parade route.

Dr. Bernard Eichold, the Mobile County health officer, said health officials hope people will follow safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported.

“Like during a traditional Mardi Gras event, everyone needs to exercise personal safety and have a safe and wonderful event,” he said.

New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations also were canceled this year to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has not attempted a similar event.

Weather forecasters predicted clear skies and comfortable temperatures, and tens of thousands of people typically pack parade routes on Fat Tuesday. The original parade route was expanded because of the high level of interest, Gulledge said, and 21 Mardi Gras societies are participating.

“Our downtown hotels are just about sold out,” she said. Restaurants and bars are planning special events and deals.

While the parade’s theme is “Celebrating Mardi Gras” and Mobile, it’s actually meant to mark the commissioning of the Navy’s new ship USS Mobile, a shallow-water combat vessel manufactured in Mobile. Aside from the parade, receptions, a breakfast and a commissioning ceremony are planned.

“We’re absolutely excited about having Mardi Gras in May, certainly unexpected,” Elizabeth Broughton, co-owner Debris Po Boys, told WALA-TV.

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