Leesburg reverses course and cancels fireworks show amid COVID-19 outbreak

The Leesburg Partnership reversed course Wednesday and canceled the city’s annual July 4 fireworks show – just two days after a split City Commission had voted to go forward with the popular event.

The decision was made amid fears of the fast-spreading Coronavirus, which on Wednesday had infected 109 Leesburg residents. The tri-county area was reporting 1,604 cases of the potentially deadly virus and Florida hit 109,014 COVID-19 cases – an increase of 5,511 in a 24-hour period.

Wednesday’s announcement on the Partnership’s website followed a somewhat contentious and emotional meeting Monday night at the Venetian Center where a split City Commission voted to hold the fireworks show. Leesburg City Manager Al Minner had asked commissioners to consider canceling it at a June 8 meeting and they elected to wait until this past Monday to make a decision.

At the earlier meeting, Minner said he was more concerned about public safety issues connected with the ever-growing event than he was about COVID-19, which at the time stood at 48 cases. On Monday night, however, Minner cited concerns over the increasing number of cases of the virus in the city, which had by then had more than doubled to 97.

Commissioner Dan Robuck III strongly agreed and said he had spoken to a high-ranking medical official at UF Health Leesburg Hospital who said the show definitely should be canceled. Commissioner John Christian also supported the idea of calling off the event.

But Commissioner Jay Hurley, as he had done on June 8, made an impassioned plea for the fireworks show to go on. He said the majority of the recent uptick in Coronavirus cases in Florida was in metropolitan areas and the southern portion of the state. He also pointed out the immense amount of unrest and turmoil across the country and said it would be a good thing to bring people together to celebrate our freedom and independence.

“I’m 110 percent for celebrating our independence on the Fourth of July in Leesburg,” he said to a rousing round of applause for packed-house audience at the Venetian Center.

Commissioner Mike Pederson agreed and the deciding vote fell to Mayor Elise Dennison, who voted yes and then strongly encouraged attendees to practice social distancing and take all precautions possible.

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