Why some East TN cities chose to move forward with 4th of July festivities despite COVID-19

Local News

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WATE) — Despite the rising COVID-19 cases in East Tennessee, several cities are continuing with their Fourth of July celebrations, with some slight changes.

Lenoir City, Loudon and Greenback are all moving forward with their Independence Day festivities.

Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, said that because of COVID-19, people have been cooped up for a few months and now is the time to get out of the house and show patriotism.

“We’re letting people make up their own mind on what to do. You know, we think the time is here for people to come out and fellowship and be with their families and to honor our first responders and to honor our military,” Aikens said.

The city will have some safety precautions in place.

“We’re still going to encourage the social distancing. Again, we’re going to have those hand sanitizer stations set up, and we’re not going to enforce masks, for somebody to wear a mask, but again, if they feel comfortable doing so, that’s fine too,” Aikens said.

He also mentioned that because the event is as the city park near the river, there is ample amount of space for people to spread out.

Aikens said it’s the 20th year for Rockin the Docks in Lenoir City, which means the city is trying to do add some special elements, like a military flyover.

Greenback Mayor Dewayne Burchfield said he was also excited to continue with Fourth of July traditions and have a parade, followed by fireworks.

He said they are asking event attendees to spread out and use more of the parade route, instead of crowding in popular spots.

The parade starts at 2 p.m. This year they will not have any vendors along the route.

Knoxville on the other hand canceled its usual Festival on the 4th and fireworks show, but the city will still have an event.

It’s called “Knoxville’s Neighborhood Trails of Red, White and Blue.”

Judith Foltz, special events director for the city, said it was difficult cancelling the Festival on the 4th for the first time in 35 years, but she knew they couldn’t just do nothing.

“This is such a difficult time and a challenging time for everyone. We wanted something to kind of get our minds off everything else and give people a feeling of community,” Foltz said.

She said the neighborhood trails was an idea based on the Dogwood Trail.

Ten neighborhood districts around the city will decorate their homes and streets in red, white and blue.

A caravan of judges and city officials, such as Mayor Indya Kincannon, will drive through the neighborhoods, voting on certain criteria.

“We have different categories. The most patriotic neighborhood, most patriotic person, most patriotic um either balcony or mailbox,” Foltz said.

She said the city wants the community to drive, walk or bike through the neighborhoods as well. If they can’t make it on July 4, they can go the day before or after.

If Knoxville residents are really itching for fireworks, the city will be streaming the fireworks show from last year’s Festival on the 4th.

“We’re making the best of a difficult situation and really, really hoping next year we’ll come back with a big bang and have a fabulous Festival of the 4th next year,” Foltz said.

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said that she heard from multiple residents wanting to keep their July 4th celebrations going this year.

“Many people even used the wording that ‘we need this.’  In light of social distancing, unemployment, and the many stressors around COVID-19, it is important to have a moment to feel normal, to be united in recognizing the birth of our nation, to look up in the sky knowing our friends and neighbors are looking up, too.  So much has been lost that it was important that people have these moments to feel like a community again, to feel joy in celebrating,” Frank said.

She said the cities in Anderson County usually do the heavy work for the festivities, but because of limited space, the county decided to host the event.

The county commission pitched in $12,000 for the event, on top of the $10,000 the communities put in, which Frank said will help fund an even bigger show.

She said the county is taking safety precautions seriously amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In light of COVID-19, we aren’t hosting a festival, vendors, or a gathering area; so we are messaging safe-distancing,” Frank said.

She said the fireworks will also be live-streamed, which allows families to stay home if they choose to.

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