UPDATE: The secretary of the Army has directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely hold this event. The article now being updated is here.
The Arlington National Cemetery announced Monday it has canceled its annual Wreaths Across America event out of safety concerns as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise throughout the region.
Hundreds of volunteers lay wreaths at the gravesites of veterans and fallen service members at the cemetery every December 19.
Cemetery officials said they decided to cancel this year's wreath-laying after determining there was not a way to mitigate the risks of such an event.
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“We did not make this decision lightly. Despite the controls developed to disperse potential crowds in time and space, and required personal safety protocols, we determined that hosting any event of this scale risked compromising our ability to accomplish our core mission of laying veterans and their eligible family members to rest,” Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of the Office of Army National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, said in a release.
Durham-Aguilera said officials considered different options to try to safely hold the event and consulted with local government and public health officials.
"We understand that although this is disappointing for so many, we could no longer envision a way to safely accommodate the large number of visitors we typically host during this event.”
Coronavirus cases and deaths are climbing in D.C., Maryland and Virginia — with big jumps in cases in Virginia and Maryland.
D.C. announced 87 more cases on Monday; no deaths were reported. Maryland announced 1,726 cases of the virus and seven more deaths. Virginia announced 2,071 more cases and six more deaths.
Hospitalizations were about steady in D.C. but elevated in Maryland and Virginia, with 101 people hospitalized in D.C., 985 in Maryland and 1,071 in Virginia.
“Our strong hope is to be able to resume hosting this great event next year in 2021,” Charles “Ray” Alexander, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery said.
Family pass holders and visitors can still visit the cemetery and place graveside tributes of privately purchased flowers or wreaths.