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Members of lead Rose Parade band from Alabama test positive for coronavirus

marching band drummers
The Homewood High School Patriot Band from Homewood, Ala., performs Jan. 1 during the 133rd Rose Parade in Pasadena.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

Members of the 410-person Alabama high school marching band that led off this year’s Rose Parade with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” have tested positive for the coronavirus since returning home from California.

The entire school has switched to virtual classes this week because of an outbreak.

An email sent to band parents at Homewood High School and obtained by the Associated Press didn’t say how many students were infected. The district does not release coronavirus case numbers by class or organization, Merrick Wilson, a spokesperson for the Homewood school system in suburban Birmingham, said Friday.

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Wilson said the district sends reports about coronavirus cases to the Alabama Department of Public Health, but officials with both the state and county health departments said they were unaware of a problem at the school.

Alabama has one of the nation’s highest rates of positive results on coronavirus tests, at nearly 44%; that doesn’t include people using at-home tests. The state has the nation’s third-highest COVID-19 death rate, at 16,580, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The Homewood school system cited an unusually large number of cases at the high school in announcing a suspension of in-person classes Tuesday, the same day band parents were notified about an unspecified number of positive tests following the trip to Pasadena for the Jan. 1 parade.

The Rose Parade returned to Pasadena on New Year’s Day amid a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant.

“We apologize for this late notice, but we have continued to receive additional reports of positive cases this afternoon and evening. We understand this is not ideal, but we believe eLearning at HHS this week will limit the possible exposure to anyone who may be a close contact to the positive individuals,” said a note from the superintendent, Justin Hefner, posted on the system’s website.

Hefner’s public Twitter feed includes photos from the California trip that show band members and others in close proximity on a bus and elsewhere, and many not wearing face masks, which are recommended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Health officials say social distancing and masks have become even more important because of the Omicron variant, which is more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.

Candy Carlson, communications director for the Tournament of Roses, said the organization was saddened to hear about Homewood’s cases, though officials weren’t given any information indicating they resulted from the band’s trip to Pasadena.

“The recent surge of COVID-19 as a result of the Omicron variant is concerning for all of us. However, we are confident that our strict COVID-19 related protocols enabled us to mitigate those impacts for our parade participants and patrons,” the statement said.

It added that of more than 6,500 participants in this year’s parade, 91% were vaccinated, and the remainder were required to provide proof of a negative test within 72 hours of the event.

The Homewood Patriot Band, billed as Alabama’s largest high school band and known for its tricorn hats, has made four previous appearances in the Rose Parade.

Tournament president shepherds bands as they gear up for world’s most-watched parade.

The parade returned this year after the coronavirus pandemic in 2021 forced the event’s first cancellation since World War II.

While many looked forward to the parade as a respite from two painful pandemic years, surging case numbers driven by Omicron clouded the days leading up to it. Other New Year’s events were scaled back or canceled across the country.

The 133rd Rose Parade drew a smaller than usual but enthusiastic crowd. Organizers said they felt safe presenting the outdoor event, which had numerous safety measures in place.

The Rose Parade returned after a rare cancellation last year. Crowds were smaller amid a surge in coronavirus cases, but they were enthusiastic.

The Tournament of Roses required the 6,000-plus parade participants, including people on floats, marching band members and equestrians, to provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of the event.

Spectators ages 12 and up in ticketed areas, including grandstands, were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours. Ticket holders ages 18 and up had to provide photo identification, and all attendees ages 2 and up in those areas were required to wear a mask.

But along the rest of the 5.5-mile route, where people were able to walk up and watch, vaccination and negative test results were not checked.

The sharp climb in coronavirus cases continued in the days following the New Year’s holiday. On Friday, Los Angeles County reported 43,712 new cases, the highest single-day total of the pandemic. The previous record, 37,215, came Thursday.

Times staff writer Gregory Yee contributed to this report.


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