For July Fourth, Many Cities Go Virtual or Cancel Fireworks Displays

People on the east side of Manhattan watch a fireworks display, part of Independence Day festivities, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in New York.

People on the east side of Manhattan watch a fireworks display, part of Independence Day festivities, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in New York. AP Photo/Jeenah Moon


Connecting state and local government leaders

Some larger cities have opted to cancel their Independence Day fireworks while others are hosting virtual events or taking steps to encourage social distancing. New York City is planning a nightly surprise show each day this week.

From virtual parades to unannounced fireworks shows, the Fourth of July will look different this year.

To prevent large gatherings and tamp down on the spread of coronavirus infections, many cities are canceling or curtailing traditional Independence Day celebrations.

Among those cities cancelling fireworks displays altogether is Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

“We believe traditional fireworks displays encourage people to gather in close proximity which is not recommended at this time due to potential spread of Covid-19,” city spokeswoman Deana Gamble told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Instead, the city is hosting a series of online events this week, including nightly concert performances, virtual tours of city museums, and fitness and health programs. 

In Texas, where the number of coronavirus cases has surged in recent weeks, most recently leading Gov. Greg Abbott to order bars to close, some cities are still going forward with fireworks displays but taking additional precautions.

Houston will host its annual July Fourth fireworks show, but a festival that typically proceeds the display will go virtual.

“This was an easy decision as the safety of Houstonians is our greatest concern, and the numbers of people testing positive continue to increase every day,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told Houston Public Media.

Houston has cancelled more than 300 events this year over coronavirus concerns, but officials wanted to be able to go forward with some sort of Independence Day celebration. Performances by the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and other musicians, including local rappers and a mariachi band, will be broadcast on a local TV station and streamed online. The event will culminate with 15-minute fireworks show that city officials said can be viewed from across the city or virtually.

Dallas has cancelled its fireworks show altogether. Elsewhere in the state, displays will take place but cities are shutting down access to the parks where fireworks are being launched to discouraging crowds from gathering and instead instructing people to watch them from home.  

In Minnesota, Minneapolis has cancelled its large fireworks display but smaller surrounding towns and cities still plan to hold their own. At those events, cities are encouraging social distancing measures or asking spectators to watch from their cars or their homes.

With many government-sponsored fireworks shows canceled, some cities have considered encouraging a do-it-yourself approach. In Bismarck, North Dakota, lawmakers considered lifting the city’s fireworks ban to allow people to set off their own at-home pyrotechnics displays.

New York City has been awash in amateur fireworks displays in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, leading Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce the formation of a task force that has arrested people engaged in illegal sales.

To provide New Yorkers a way to view more traditional, professional displays, smaller fireworks shows are being held each night this week in each of the city’s five boroughs. To discourage crowds from gathering, the locations of the nightly five-minute fireworks displays will be disclosed only shortly beforehand.  

"In an effort to keep New Yorkers safe during this pandemic, we have decided not to announce the locations of the fireworks far in advance to prevent crowds from forming,” Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio told NY1. “We understand some New Yorkers do not want to be caught off guard, though, which is why we are going to send out notifications on the evening of each display alerting New Yorkers to the approximate time and location of the fireworks so they can prepare accordingly.”

On Saturday, a grand finale show will take place at the Empire State Building, which will be broadcast on television.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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