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500-team youth basketball tournament in Spokane canceled over COVID-19 concerns

The offices of the Spokane Regional Health District in 2006. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Megan Rowe and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

A middle school basketball tournament scheduled for this weekend that would have brought hundreds of families to Spokane was postponed Wednesday over growing concerns of COVID-19.

And the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick committee made the decision to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day parade this Saturday, said president Kevin Cotter.

“Based on the announcement by the governor, Nadine Woodward and health officials, we took it that we should follow their recommendations and their directions, and limit the number of people that are gathered together, so we decided to cancel the parade,” Cotter said. “We decided it was the best interest for our community.”

Cotter noted St. Patrick’s Day parades across the country, including Boston’s, were being canceled, but the decision was tough. This would have been the parade’s 42nd year, and it’s never been canceled.

The State Basketball Championship executive board postponed the Washington Middle School Basketball Championship, which was scheduled for Friday through Sunday, citing a legal directive from the Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.

The tournament, which was to be held at the Spokane Convention Center as well as many school gymnasiums in Spokane County, would have brought students and families from across the state.

The announcement was made after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a prohibition of gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties and the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic relating to the novel coronavirus. The NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel is recommending against sporting events being open to the public.

Kate Hudson, Visit Spokane spokeswoman, said the cancellation will have a devastating economic impact on Spokane, which Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward echoed in a news conference Wednesday.

Woodward noted the impact will emerge over time.

Earlier in the day, the State Basketball Championship executive board posted a letter on its website expressing an intent to continue with the event and detailing extra precautions, including signage for safety practices, hand-washing stations and extra sanitation of “high touch areas.” Still, parents of the players expressed concern.

Sarah Hay’s fifth grade son, Max Hay, plays for a team that was scheduled to be in the tournament.

But Hay, of Seattle, and many other parents of players on the 10-person team already decided not to attend because of concern about the virus.

“I think we have a social responsibility to slow the COVID-19 virus as much as we can to alleviate the strain on the health care system,” Hay said.

Hay was able to cancel her hotel reservations at the Spokane Club without having to pay a penalty, but she said other parents are out money they’ve spent on hotels and plane tickets.

Rebecca Crisp’s eighth grade son also was supposed to play. Crisp lives in Snohomish County, and said a high school student who lives about 15 miles from her has contracted the virus. She found the idea of gathering youth from all over Washington into one space irresponsible.

USA Volleyball’s Pacific Northwest Qualifier announced on its website the cancellation of its tournament, which would have taken place March 21-23 and March 27-29. The tournament draws 700 teams over two weekends.

“While we have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation and we still do not have any confirmed cases on our county, our Governor released information today that resulted in the closing of Eastern Washington University to outside groups,” the statement said. “In addition, our regional health district began the process of canceling sporting events over a certain number. With these latest developments, we will have to cancel this year’s Pacific Northwest Qualifier.”

For now, Bloomsday is on. Lilac Bloomsday Association board member Al Odenthal, the head of race security, said organizers are preparing for the annual event “as scheduled” with more than six weeks until race day.

“We remain in contact with our medical partners and the public health district in terms of what is happening nationally and locally. And we will make decisions as we get closer,” Odenthal said. “We are still so far out as this changes considerably over time.”

Odenthal said Bloomsday’s response to COVID-19 could be similar to how organizers planned for the 2009 swine flu outbreak. Organizers told people who were feeling ill to stay home, but the disease was waning come the first Sunday in May.

The Spokane Public Library announced Wednesday that all library events, meeting room bookings and outreach services through March 31 have been canceled. The libraries themselves will remain open.

The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox does not plan to cancel any events, said Jeff vom Saal, Spokane Symphony executive director. MultiCare Health Systems canceled the March 5 MultiCare Heart Strings concert that was to be hosted by the Fox, but that was the health-care company’s decision.

“Everything is on the table, of course, through the lens of public health,” vom Saal said. “Safety and continuing in our effort and our mission to be of service and value to our community. The last thing we want to do is contribute in any way to this pandemic.”

The Fox is drafting a policy to give an opportunity for sick patrons to trade in their tickets for a future show.

Meanwhile, the Coeur d’Alene Symphony on Wednesday decided to cancel this weekend’s concerts, after a member of the orchestra who lives in Spokane began experiencing flu-like symptoms. The musician has been tested for the COVID-19 virus and is in self-quarantine, the news release said. The symphony said test results could take a few days, but the board didn’t want to take any chances. Tickets for the concerts will be honored at future concerts; those who wish a refund should contact the symphony at or by call (208) 765-3833.

Their six special guests this weekend, winners of their annual young performers competition, will be heard on Spokane Public Radio, 91.1 FM, in the 9 a.m. hour Friday, performing in concert without the symphony.

Various organizations have taken it upon themselves to cancel their events in the upcoming days and weeks. As part of its 40th anniversary year, Spokane Public Radio was presenting NPR journalist David Folkenflik at the Bing Crosby Theater on March 31, but NPR has canceled all nonessential travel for its staff.

Master Gardeners of Spokane County canceled their 2020 Gardening Symposium, “Cabin Fever,” that was scheduled for March 21. The Inland Northwest Honor Flight – which transports area veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their service – has canceled the April 27-28 flight, but said veterans would be eligible for the Sept 28-29 flight. The Washington Bike, Walk, and Roll Summit, which was scheduled for April 26-27, was delayed to September 20-21. The Spokesman-Review is postponing its third annual Active Living Expo to Oct. 3. The event will still take place at the Davenport Grand.

Spokesman-Review editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this story

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.