Despite a new mask mandate and restrictions on outdoor gatherings, East Texas still plans to celebrate freedom this July the Fourth.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order limiting outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people without approval by local officials and mandating everyone wears face masks in a public space in a county with more than 20 COVID-19 cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many local Independence Day celebrations this year to be canceled, but Longview and Kilgore both are hosting fireworks shows Saturday.
And organizers have put precautions in place.
In Longview, the Fireworks & Freedom Celebration at the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Complex originally was canceled to save money during the pandemic, then a family stepped forward to donate the funds for the show.
No live entertainment is planned this year. City spokesman Shawn Hara said the drive-in fireworks show will observe social distancing. Parking places spaced out, and families are asked to stay in their spot if they want to get out of their cars.
The city also will give out bags with hand sanitizer as people arrive when the gates open at 7 p.m. for the 9:30 p.m., Hara said. A limited number of food trucks will be on site, with enough space for people to social distance in line.
Hara said those attending the event should follow Abbott's order to wear masks in public, which was issued Thursday to take effect at 12:01 p.m. today.
Those attending the event do not have to wear a mask if they stay at their vehicles, but are encouraged to do so as they move around to other areas, such as the food trucks.
Radio station KYKX will simulcast music during the event.
In Kilgore, organizers of the Fireworks Extravaganza also are encouraging people to stay in their cars or go to viewing locations besides the park, City Manager Josh Selleck said.
For anyone who does go to the city park to watch the fireworks, stripes will mark off how far apart families should be from other families to properly social distance, he said.
The event will offer food vendors at 6 p.m., and the fireworks will start at 9:15 p.m., Selleck said.
As far as the mask order is concerned, Selleck said Abbott offered no enforcement method, so the event will continue as planned.
"When local officials have the ability to make decisions like this, they take into account the impact it has on individuals," he said. "I think it's been arbitrary and short-sighted, and he essentially is proud of eliminating all local control."
Selleck said he encouraged Kilgore residents to follow the order. But the city has no way of enforcing something without additional staff that "reaches that far into people's lives," he said.
"We believe that this is an important holiday for us to continue to celebrate," he said. "It’s about community, but it’s also about family. We think we’re providing a way to celebrate community safely."