Lloyd Blunk/Unsplash

Carnival Carelessness? Florida City’s “Pandemic Parade” for Mardi Gras

12:00 January 27, 2021
By: Laurel Shimasaki

Zoom in on a map of Florida, and a small dot for the city of Milton will pop up roughly 25 miles northeast of Pensacola. Situated on the delta where the tannic Blackwater River feeds into the East Bay, Milton is home to an estimated 10,523 people. It's a small city with a settlement history that reaches back to the early 1800s. Before the land was officially called Milton, the Santa Rosa County Historical Society says it had previously gone by choice names such as "Scratch Ankle," for its aggressive briars, and "Hell-Town," for its humidity, barbed flora, snakes, and mosquitoes.

This Carnival season, Milton is going against the advice of health experts by planning to move forward with their parade and after-party on January 30, 2021—otherwise known as in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 420,000 Americans. It's an unthinkably tragic number of lives lost, and yet Georgia's Albany Herald recently published an article on a study showing that in the South, COVID-related deaths are even higher than are being reported.

Just days before the parade, Santa Rosa County—of which Milton is a part—has a coronavirus positivity count of 14,706 people. Milton's decision has been dubbed "the height of frivolousness and irresponsible local leadership" by their neighbors at the Editorial Board at the Pensacola News Journal. In a scathing op-ed titled "Unlike majority of the Gulf Coast, Milton Mardi Gras a spectacle of selfishness," the writers called attention to the fact that across the Gulf Coast, cities have called off their parades in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"Not only are Milton's parade organizers spitting on the sacrifices that all these other communities have made, the Milton City Council actually voted to spend thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to help fund an "after-party at an event that officials said would be 50 percent larger than last year's," wrote the Editorial Board at the PNJ. Councilman George Jordan was the one dissenter in a 5-1 vote to donate money to the Krewe of Airship Pirates for their parade after-party. He was joined in sentiment by Councilwoman Sharon Holley, though for technicality reasons, she could not vote via phone call.

It wouldn't have mattered anyway. The PNJ noted that Jordan and Holley were outnumbered by council members such as Shannon Rice, who said that using taxpayer dollars to fund an after-party was a matter of "personal freedom" and "not being tyrannical." The city of Milton has already gone ahead with a pandemic Christmas parade where "very few" people wore masks, Jordan told Annie Blanks, a reporter for the PNJ. "I really am concerned about it becoming a super-spreader due to the after-party," Holley told Blanks. Maybe Hell-Town is an applicable name after all.

From New Orleans, it's hard to watch Milton's reckless parade and after-party without recalling March 2020, when NOLA's Mardi Gras celebration was pointed out as the reason why the city emerged as a hot spot early on in the pandemic. The hindsight assessment came too late. Back in February 2020, the CDC was still warning that COVID-19 would be a future concern. On February 24—one day before Fat Tuesday—President Trump tweeted "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" Then, the virus felt far away and impossible. Now, the virus has been here for nearly a year and the refusal to follow the precautions urged by infectious disease specialists is a choice.

Milton is hardly alone in its incautious choices. The Mystic Krewe of Nyx fulfilled the prophecy of their name when they mystified many with their choice to throw a ball in Biloxi. Why anyone would post photos from a ball to social media in the middle of a pandemic is a modern-day form of inscrutable mysticism. Even more mystifying: Dough Sunseri, Nyx's spokesman attorney, tried to tone down the backlash by telling Nola.com that he doesn't think "ball is a proper characterization" for the event, despite the fact that "photographs of the event program were titled 'Nyx Myx Masquerade Ball,'" as journalist Doug MacCash noted. Nyx gets their mystique from their baffling self-delusion. It's an all-too-common occurrence that makes people believe their actions don't matter when it comes to public health. The reality is that we're in this together.

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