The city of Sandy Springs has started its three-phased plan to reopen services and host events again in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but all events that require large gatherings are cancelled or postponed until at least July 6.

That means its annual lantern parade, set for the weekend of June 19 through 21, is shifting to a virtual event where participants can still make their own lanterns but will have to light and move them from home, and its annual July 4 fireworks show has been cancelled.

“That was probably one of the roughest ones,” city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said of the decision to cancel the fireworks display. “We are going to look at putting fireworks at another event.”

Kraun was one of several city leaders who provided updates on the city’s response to the outbreak at the Sandy Springs City Council’s May 19 meeting. It was held virtually due to the pandemic.

The city’s reopening strategy began May 18 with the first phase, which includes its staff transitioning from working from home back to City Hall. It continues June 1 with Sandy Springs’ revenue and permitting departments opening by appointment only.

Phase 2 includes the city’s first in-person council meeting since March 3, and the third phase involves events returning, including city-hosted concerts and event rentals. But that means a slew of other events set for late May and June have also been cancelled or postponed.

However, a return to normalcy is slowly being phased in with the city’s parks and recreation department. Starting June 1, racket sports can resume, and the Morgan Falls dog park and paddle shack and the city’s gymnastics camps will open. But there will be limits to the number of participants.

Beginning in mid-June, playgrounds and interactive fountains will open and shelters will allow for passive use but no parties or events. In July event rentals at park shelter spaces, athletic fields, basketball courts and all other summer camps will open.

“We’re going to start putting our toe in the water and start reopening. … By the end of the week, we hope to have more info on the youth sports programming,” Mayor Rusty Paul said about state health recommendations. “It won’t be required but is guidance – social distancing among the players and the spectators, monitoring temperatures. Once we get that guidance, we’ll be working with our youth sports to begin the process of reopening our youth sports program.

“We’re also looking at having some denser events and maybe some outdoor concerts. We want to do a phased approached because we want to see the numbers. If they start spiking, we’ll slow things down. As long as there are no spikes or increases, we’ll continue to phase things back in.”

Kraun said the three concerts scheduled in July – two at the City Green Live series and one at the Concerts by the Springs series – will be a good barometer of how the city handles events with large crowds. They normally attract at least 1,000 residents each, but less will likely be allowed to attend this year due to social distancing rules.

Shaun Albrechtson, the city’s arts center executive director, said he’s considering having his staff mark 10-foot by 10-foot squares at City Green for couples or families to sit in as a way to keep everyone safe and healthy.

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