PASADENA (CBSLA) - In one of the biggest weekends of the year for Pasadena, tourists flock to the city for the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, but with cases of COVID-19 at record highs, organizers are doing their best to keep the public informed about how to stay safe.
"I think they said 39,000 tickets were sold for Utah. So, there's gonna be a lot of Utah, but there's going to be a lot of red because we're both red!" said Utah Utes fan Patty Fullmer about Saturday's Rose Bowl game.
While there's certainly excitement, there's no doubt some fans are also a bit anxious as cases of COVID-19 in the Southland skyrocket. Just around the corner from the souvenir stands, a line of cars with people waiting for their COVID tests in the shadow of the Rose Bowl sets a tense tone.
A quick search on social media shows reduced ticket prices for both the game and seating at the Rose Parade, as some who planned to attend are now opting out.
The Johnson Miller Family from South Carolina, however, are keeping their plans.
"We are vaccinated. We are masked up. We're the only ones in here talking to you. There's nobody else in this big ballroom. We have our masks," Allison Johnson Miller said.
They are among the thousands from all over with tickets for or participating in the bowl or parade who will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of the event.
LA County health officials said they trust the Pasadena team since it's an outdoor event, and organizers are focusing on masking and vaccination. Director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, called the protocols reassuring.
"It's an outdoor event. Pasadena officials and the health department have gone to great lengths to make sure people are vaccinated and masked, and avoid super crowded situations. I trust the Pasadena team to do a very good job, and I trust people to assess their own risk," Ferrer said.
No one knows better than the Johnson Miller Family how precious and how fragile good health is.
In February 2020, 17-year-old Keegan Johnson, a junior in high school and three sport athlete with a bright smile suddenly died from an undiagnosed case of bacterial meningitis.
"I always tell everybody he wasn't perfect, but he was ours and he was. Once you met him, you'd never forget him. I just miss everything about him," Johnson Miller said.
Because her son was a donor, his major organs were used to save four lives. His tissue and bones, doctors told the family, helped countless others.
On Saturday, Keegan Johnson will be honored on the Donate Life South Carolina float. His parents, brothers and extended family came early to help decorate and place his floragraph front and center.
A football fanatic, he made it to the Rose Bowl. Maybe not the way he dreamt he would, but with an opportunity to continue saving lives by raising awareness about organ donation.
"To see him on that float is amazing, be a part of something big and that's what he always wanted, to do something big. That's him," said Joey Miller, Keegan's dad.
As his parents talk about all the simple things they miss, like his voicing calling out to them, their sorrow is unrelenting, but so is their pride.
"He always wanted to be a hero and this is such a blessing to us, that he went out as a hero," Allison Johnson Miller, Keegan's mother, said.
The Johnson Miller Family now heads a mission to raise awareness about organ donation, and they have created a scholarship in his name. Their story is just an example of the way the Rose Parade is more than simply festive and fun. It's also an incredible opportunity to spread positive, even life-saving messages.
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