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Do 'wave parades' violate lockdown rules? New Jersey police clear up controversy

Wave parades, which involve people driving by a location and cheering from inside their cars, have become a popular way to celebrate special occasions in lockdown.
Community members in a passing vehicle wave as they take
Community members in a passing vehicle wave as they take part during a social distanced parade to honor first responders amid the coronavirus emergency.Jeremy Hogan / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

New Jersey officials are clarifying a controversial statement issued over the weekend that seemed to ban "wave parades," a celebratory practice made popular in lockdown due to the coronavirus.

With graduations around the corner, many people nationwide have planned wave parades, which involve individuals driving past a location and cheering from inside their vehicles. A letter from Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of New Jersey State Police, said wave parades were in violation of Gov. Phil Murphy's March executive order requiring state residents to stay at home and cancel all gatherings.

"It is critical to understand the need to acknowledge academic achievements in ways that do not compromise or endanger public health during the COVID-19 emergency," the statement read. "In-person ceremonies, including graduations, all parades, including wave parades, that invite people to gather at a certain location ... should therefore be canceled or postponed.

Virtual celebrations and other remote forms of recognition should take the place of any in-person or public ceremonies."

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Online protests of the letter quickly followed, with many asking why officials would ban one of the few practices bringing people joy during such a challenging time.

"Governor - folks are in their cars taking responsible safety precautions. Why ban events in the open air that are making New Jersey residents happy in this time of uncertainty?" tweeted District 40 assemblyman Kevin Rooney.

"No Wave parades in #NewJersey?" wrote another Twitter user. "You can't get in your car, wave and honk your horn? WTF?!"

"So.... 'wave parades' so many people have done in our state to encourage one another by driving by homes ... not allowed??" added a third.

During a press conference Monday, Callahan explained that wave parades are, in fact, permitted provided that individuals stay in their cars.

"We would never and we could not prevent vehicles driving by," he said. "Let's say it's a senior, and him or her are on their front porch with their parents. Those vehicles can go by."

He further explained that the intent of the letter, directed at the state's department of education and both public and private schools, was to discourage events inviting "students to gather on the front lawn of a school, at a football stadium, at a town hall ... which is in violation of the (executive order). ... People who are out of their cars, that was the issue."

Callahan added that wave parades are "a great gesture to give that sense of solidarity, but when there's 50 people standing on top of each other on the curb of a hospital or in front of a high school, that's where the problem comes in."

Across the country, officials in Santa Clara County, California, have taken a rigid stance against wave parades. According to the county's website, a May 4 order explicitly banned car caravans and parades.

"The order prohibits all public and private gatherings with people who do not live in the same household or living unit," the site explained. "Parades, ceremonies, and similar gatherings with people outside your household are not allowed, even if everyone stays in their cars."

On May 4, the New Jersey governor announced that schools in his state will stay closed for the rest of the academic year, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said families should operate "with the expectation" that schools will not reopen in the coming weeks.