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Boston is facing a quiet summer: July Fourth celebration latest to be canceled due to coronavirus

Keith Lockhart conducted the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in 2019.
Keith Lockhart conducted the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in 2019.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

One of the nation’s signature Fourth of July events has been canceled, as city officials and the Boston Pops on Friday nixed the annual concert and fireworks display that draws a half million people to the Charles River Esplanade and is broadcast into the homes of countless more.

Announced hours after the national unemployment rate spiked to a jaw-dropping 14.7 percent, the cancellation was just the latest sign that, even as the region eyes reopening from the long COVID-19 shutdown, life will not soon return to normal.

Other events that draw sizable crowds in the city, such as the Boston Pride parades, had already been canceled. But the announcement Friday by Mayor Martin J. Walsh that Boston will not host any large-scale parades or festivals until at least Labor Day confirms that a city that draws tourists from near and far is facing a quiet summer.

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“If you have an event that brings crowds together in close contact like a concert, a road race, a flag raising, you should start looking at alternatives right now,” Walsh said. “This is a public health decision and it’s the right decision.”

Walsh: No festivals or parades through Labor Day
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced there will be no parades or festivals in the city through Labor Day because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff, Video: Handout)

The decision marks the first-ever outright cancellation of the concert since it began in 1929; the firework display was added in 1974. The date has occasionally been moved or the event abruptly cut short due to weather conditions.

The Pops instead plan to broadcast a concert to television and online audiences, with fireworks from a previous Fourth celebration bringing the show to a close. Conductor Keith Lockhart said the concert will pay tribute to front-line workers, whom he called “the glue holding our communities together since this health crisis began.”

The pandemic has sickened more than 3.9 million people and killed more than 273,000 worldwide. In the United States, nearly 1.3 million people have been sickened and more than 76,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Massachusetts on Friday reported an additional 1,612 new coronavirus cases, for a total of 75,333. The number of deaths rose by 150, increasing the total to 4,702. The state also reported 14,391 new tests administered, with the rate of positive results for the day at around 11 percent, which is lower than the most recent seven-day average.

In his own briefing at the State House, Governor Charlie Baker noted that after some disappointing statistics on Wednesday, the numbers had improved on Thursday, keeping with positive recent trends. But he cautioned that any single day report did not tell the whole story.

“No single day is indicative of a trend,” he said. “Data trends have to be looked at over time. … We need to see the numbers continue to improve and to see that curve gradually slope downward.”

Walsh shared a small bright spot of news out of Boston: For the first time in the pandemic, the city on Thursday recorded more recoveries from COVID-19 than new cases. But he, too, stressed that one day does not necessarily represent a turning point.

Walsh also announced that the Boston Resiliency Fund, which was launched to help with the response to the public health emergency, surpassed $30 million in money raised. He said $16 million has been distributed so far in grants, including to “diverse grass-roots organizations” meant to help and support needy residents.

But city and state leaders were criticized in a separate news conference Friday held by a group of Black community activists, who said neighborhoods like Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester are in need of much more assistance.

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They cited data showing that Black residents of Boston represent a disproportionate share of coronavirus cases, in part because they make up a larger share of essential workers and are more reliant on public transit.

“Regardless of what is going on in all other parts of the city or the Commonwealth, in the Black communities of Boston — in Roxbury in particular, in Mattapan, in Dorchester — the rate of infections is still rising, people are still dying disproportionately to their numbers in society, and help is not coming,” said Louis Elisa, a former federal and state official who spoke at the event hosted by the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition.

The group said it has presented a series of demands to both the Baker and Walsh administrations, including: more testing in those neighborhoods; a full accounting of whether federal, state, and local aid is going to minority-owned businesses during the crisis; establishment of a new fund to support minority-owned businesses; and a plan to get masks and other protective equipment to residents in virus hot spots.

At his news conference, Baker said he understood why Walsh canceled many summer events, citing his own experience marching in parades in Boston.

“It would be hard for me to imagine, given how popular those parades are, how you would ever deliver on a social distancing standard,” Baker said, adding that his administration will “obviously” discuss with local government leaders whether similar summer event bans are necessary, and that it would be a “different kind of summer."

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Baker’s own statewide stay-home advisory and nonessential business closure is in place until May 18. The governor on Friday said officials in Massachusetts and several nearby states are still working to determine whether day care or summer camps can be safely reopened, and acknowledged the decision could make the coming months difficult for families.

Baker encouraged after past week's numbers
"Overall this week showed us some encouraging trends when it comes to our fight against the virus," said Governor Baker. (Photo: Chris Van Buskirk/Pool, Video: Handout)

“The tough part is, especially when it comes to some of the stuff that involves the joys of being a kid, figuring out some way to do this where you have at least enough rules to make sure it can be done safely but you don’t destroy the whole spontaneous nature of what those are supposed to be about," Baker said.

In Boston, Walsh’s office said his ban applied to events requiring city permits, and said no event should be held that would involve more than 10 people gathering or that could draw a crowd of any size.

Walsh’s edict does not address whether the Red Sox will play home games in front of fans at Fenway Park this year. Those discussions, he said, are happening at the state task force level and among sports leagues, who have largely floated ideas that would not include spectators.

"It’s hard to physically distance at a baseball park,” Walsh noted.

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The mayor’s latest announcement applies to events through Sept. 7, ending just a week before the rescheduled Boston Marathon, which was postponed from its usual April date due to the virus.

Also Friday, the Federal Transit Administration announced that it would transfer more than $820 million to the MBTA, a grant award that was included in the CARES Act that the T is relying on to cover gigantic fare revenue losses over the next year.

Christina Prignano, John R. Ellement, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.