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COVID: Benicia Cancels July 4 Fireworks, Torchlight Parade

BENICIA (KPIX) –  Despite the Bay Area making big strides in reducing COVID-19 transmission, officials at one East Bay city say its 4th of July festivities will not go on as planned.

The city of Benicia announced Monday that it has canceled the July 3rd Torchlight Parade and fireworks show on July 4.

The announcement was made even though California is expected to lift all COVID restrictions on June 15th.

"Those communities that have announced plans to host 4th of July festivities are able to do so because they have venues, such as amphitheaters or other spaces, where attendance can be limited and controlled. In Benicia, we don't have the facilities that would allow to limit the size of mass gatherings," said Benicia City Manager Erik Upson in a statement released by the city on Monday. "The safety of our community remains our top priority. We have the end of this pandemic in sight and can look forward to celebrating again as a community next year."

Solano County has remained in the restrictive Red Tier even as the rest of the Bay Area has gradually been able to improve.

County Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas says the case rates in the county reflect the higher rates of illness and lower vaccination rates to its neighbors to the east.

"We bridge the Bay Area and the greater Sacramento area and Central Valley and our population is a blend and our numbers have been a blend," said Dr. Matyas.

It's typically a large weekend event, with a parade, a picnic at the park here during the day and fireworks by the waterfront at night.

About 20,000 spectators visit the dual events each year, and there was no way to limit the crowd size, officials said.

Many Benicia residents were hoping to see fireworks light up the night sky for the holiday. As much as Janel and Jake Piehnik were looking forward to the festivities, they said they were hesitant to be in large crowds.

"I think the challenge is there's no way to tell who's been vaccinated. So being in a crowd that large, it's still is a little concerning," said Jake Piehnik.

"I think we are a little disappointed," added Janel.

The decision to cancel the events was made after the Governor's Office didn't provide enough information regarding whether mass gatherings will still be allowed once the tier system is eliminated on June 15, Benicia officials added.

"Smaller neighborhood celebrations are encouraged," officials said in the same press release. "The City's Parks and Community Services Department will soon announce exciting details of fun 4th of July activities to bring neighborhoods together."

The case numbers are gradually improving in Solano County, which could possibly move into the Orange Tier in about two weeks.

Vaccination rates are at 61% for those 16 and older and the county health officer expects that number will only stay in the 65% range.

Dr. Matyas said despite the improving situation, the July festivities might be too much, too soon.

"It does represent a scenario that is high risk and I do think it is wise at this stage of the pandemic to think twice about having large 4th of July gatherings," he said.

Andrea Nakano contributed to this story.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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