Arlington National Cemetery Cancels Annual Wreath-Laying Amid COVID-19 Surge

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Wreaths lay on the graves of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery
Wreaths lay on the graves of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 15, 2012. The Wreaths Across America event has been canceled for 2020. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

Cemetery officials announced Monday that the annual wreath-laying at gravesites that had been set for Dec. 19 has been canceled "with great regret" because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The "Wreaths Across America" event has also been canceled at the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., because of the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, officials said in a statement.

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However, they added that the cancellations apply only to those two locations and do not affect other Wreaths Across America tributes to veterans at as many as 2,000 other cemeteries nationwide.

The locations can be found on the Wreaths Across America website.

In discussions with the Joint Task Force National Capital Region, "[Arlington National Cemetery] determined that it could not implement sufficient controls to mitigate the risks associated [with hosting the event] while still conducting a respectful and honorable public event," it said in a statement.

"We did not make this decision lightly," said Karen Durham-Aguilera, the cemetery's executive director. "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."

Charles "Ray" Alexander, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, said of the tribute that has come to be associated with the holiday season, "Our strong hope is to be able to resume hosting this great event next year in 2021."

The Wreath Across America cancellation is the latest in a series of events Arlington has either had to postpone or modify because of the pandemic.

The cemetery's traditional Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies were held virtually. Visits to the cemetery were also limited to family members until early September, when the public was again allowed access under strict guidelines to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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