Health

It Seems Not Even Coronavirus Can Stop St. Patrick’s Day

Day drinking in close quarters would be a prime virus transmission opportunity, but perhaps all revelers need is… the luck o’ the Irish.

by Katie Way
Mar 6 2020, 4:36pm

Photo by wundervisuals via Getty Images

Miami Ultra? Canceled. SXSW and Coachella? Teetering on the edge, according to rumors. Conference organizers in general? Worried, according to a Twitter thread from event producer Jessie Char. Companies have placed travel bans on employees and ordered them to work remotely, and people are making a decidedly uncool run on hand sanitizer and soap in stores across the country and ordering unnecessary N95 masks en masse via the internet. Dystopian, no?

But one bastion of culture endures, untouched by the blight that is COVID-19: St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that are, as of this week, proceeding as planned. At least, that’s according to the people who run a smattering of the most popular Irish pubs and host St. Paddy’s Day parties in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and New York City.

As of this report, there are currently 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State, and more than 2,700 people currently under quarantine in New York City. Bars in New York seem to be playing things a bit more cautiously. A worker at Molly’s in NYC told VICE that the restaurant and Irish pub was planning to “play it by ear” for St. Patrick’s Day. Jillian Vose, beverage director at Irish bar and taproom The Dead Rabbit, told VICE that the venue is planning to “pretty much taking it as it comes and doing business as usual and emphasizing to our staff, that if they are sick, to not come to work.”

There are currently zero confirmed coronavirus cases in Philadelphia, or in the entire state of Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t mean Philly’s celebrants will be partying completely unprotected. Chris Mullins, owner and partner at McGillin’s Old Ale House, said his bar was treating coronavirus like any other infectious disease and stocking up on soap and hand sanitizer in anticipation of St. Paddy’s Day crowds.

“As a leader of any organization, you would be remiss if you were not aware of what was going on,” Mullins told VICE. “But I'm just as aware of that as I am of any kind of a norovirus, salmonella, norovirus, hepatitis, e coli, shigella. While we're not overly alarmed at this point, we're always vigilant.” Spoonie, a man who runs daily operations at O’Neal’s Pub, said his establishment has taken similar steps in preparation, purchasing extra paper towels and hand soap, and hanging up additional signage in restrooms to ensure people actually wash their hands.

Chicago, which has zero confirmed COVID-19 cases , remains similarly unbothered (there are only five in the state of Illinois. The organizers behind Charm’d, an annual St. Patrick’s Day-themed popup bar, sent VICE the following when asked for comment on whether they’d be open as planned: “We are following the guidelines as outlined in the following brief from the City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.” The brief, issued Thursday, instructs businesses to actively encourage sick workers to stay home and states that “ there is no recommendation for business organizations in Chicago to cancel any large gatherings or public events.” A worker at Public House in Chicago said tickets for their annual St. Patrick’s Day party “Tap O’ the Morn” have already sold out and there are currently no plans to issue refunds on cancellations.

And in Boston it’s “business as usual,” according to a marketing and promotions manager at Howl at the Moon, a bar that’s participating in multiple St. Patrick’s Day pub crawls. “People have canceled,” the manager said of attendees. “But not because of coronavirus, just because they were under the weather.” And a hostess at Irish craic The Black Rose said she was anticipating a crowd, despite the lack of specific holiday programming, with no change of plans in sight. No one who lives in Boston has coronavirus (as far as we know), but three people did test positive for it after attending a tech conference at a Boston hotel.

Despite the general lack of cancellations, there are historically relevant reasons to stay home. Florian Krammer, a microbiology professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, tweeted out a chart based on data from a study comparing the impact of the 1918 influenza outbreak on Philadelphia and St. Louis. In St. Louis, where public gatherings were canceled, the death rate from the flu remained steady, and relatively low. In Philly, where public gatherings proceeded as planned, the number of deaths spiked dramatically before returning to normal. Basically, congregating in large groups during a budding pandemic is, uh, kind of a bad idea.

It was this reporter’s impression that the bar workers and owners VICE spoke to were far, far less worried about coronavirus than anyone is online. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t concerns with our lack of herd immunity without a vaccine, and the risks of younger people who tend to be less affected by the virus passing it to more vulnerable populations like old people. But if you live in a city where St. Patrick’s Day actually matters, it appears the shenanigans will still be, as of now, yours for the shenan-ing.

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