Fourth of July fireworks shows across Texas have been canceled or modified due to COVID-19.
In North Texas, Addison’s Kaboom Town! Fireworks show, which normally draws large crowds, will be livestreamed from an undisclosed location to prevent people from gathering to watch the display.
Cities like San Antonio and Austin called off their annual shows. El Paso leaders took an even stricter approach, completely banning fireworks.
At first these cancellations worried Rex Nelson, owner of Nelson’s Fireworks stores in North Texas. Most cities across the region prohibit the sale of fireworks within city limits. He thought most people wouldn't want to celebrate this year.
Instead, those cancellations have led to booming sales.
“People are wanting to get out because they’ve been pinned up for so long so everyone is putting on their own show,” he said. “And they are coming out and buying like crazy.”
The city of Dallas has not received many fireworks complaints or calls.
“It’s a little too premature, but we will have more answers after the holiday,” said Officer Tamika Dameron with the Dallas Police Department.
But community and neighborhood groups on Facebook are saying they expect more gunshots and firework shows in North Texas this year.
Nelson predicts after the holiday his store will be wiped clean. His biggest sale this year? Black Cat Party Poppers.
Nelson's concerned that he will run out of inventory by the end of 2020. Most of his fireworks come from China and production in the country stopped when the pandemic started.
“There’s no way they can physically, possibly produce enough fireworks by the New Year season to fill out all the warehouses to get us back opened up in full blown operation for New Years,” Nelson said.
Looking for other vendors may be his next option.
As more Texans purchase their own fireworks, health officials have expressed concerns about crowds gathering for unofficial neighborhood or backyard displays.
Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, said people often slip up and don’t keep their distance, especially during a holiday when alcohol is involved.
“It’s this lapsing that’s the problem,” she said. “People decide ‘oh, that was so great,' and then they all decide to gather together in front of whoever’s house shot off the fireworks and they’re all talking close to each other without masks.”
She’s particularly worried about large family gatherings, across generations, which she said have already caused the infection to spread.
“I am worried that if people decide to do that during the July 4th weekend, it’s only gonna add more fuel to a fire which is already burning out of control," Ho said.
She pointed to the rise in cases after Memorial Day. She said with higher numbers now, and some hospitals running out of space, another post-holiday spike could have more dire consequences.
"We can not have another Memorial Day after this July 4 weekend," Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services said at a press conference on Thursday. "If we do it will be catastrophic."
Ho and Huang hope if Texans do stage their own displays, they do it safely, like one neighbor setting off pyrotechnics while others watch from their front porches or lawns at a safe distance.
While business is skyrocketing for some fireworks vendors, others are closing shop ahead of the holiday weekend.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued a fireworks ban from noon on Friday, July 3 through midnight on Sunday, July 5. Anyone caught selling or setting off fireworks faces up to $500 in fines.
Samaniego said the decision was driven by drought conditions and the county’s spike in coronavirus cases.
“Unfortunately if you take that situation and you take the drought index, we would be doing a disservice for the community not to intervene and ban fireworks at this time,” he said at a Monday press briefing.
Jorge Levario sells canisters, cakes and sparklers at a bright yellow TNT Fireworks stand off Montana Avenue, in far East El Paso. It’s one of many stands along this stretch of road.
Like several other vendors in El Paso, he sells fireworks to fundraise for local groups, including a women’s shelter and the high school football team he coaches.
He was hoping for strong sales this year, since other school fundraisers were called off due to COVID-19. Instead, he had to pack up early.
“The day before and the 4th of July, that’s where we usually generate half of all the profits that we make to donate to the team,” Levario said. “So we’re not gonna get that opportunity.”
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez and Mallory Falk are Report for America corps members. Alejandra writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities and Mallory writes about the U.S.-Mexico border for KERA News. You can email Alejandra at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @_martinez_ale. You can email Mallory at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter at @malloryfalk.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.