Arlington National Cemetery Walks Back Decision to Cancel Wreaths Across America Event
The annual event, where people across the nation place wreaths at the graves of fallen soldiers, was initially canceled due to COVID-19
In a press release on Tuesday, the Virginia military cemetery explained that the Secretary of the Army had directed them to safely host the Wreaths Across America event on Dec. 19 despite the ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases.
The event, which takes place each year around the holidays, sees people lay wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 2,100 additional locations in the U.S., at sea and abroad, according to Wreaths Across America's website.
"We appreciate the families and visitors who take time to honor and remember those who are laid to rest at our nation’s most hallowed ground," the cemetery's press release stated. "Arlington National Cemetery will provide an update on the final schedule soon."
Just one day earlier, Arlington National Cemetery announced they'd be canceling Wreaths Across America due to the "current COVID-19 situation across the nation and within the National Capital Region."
In Washington D.C., a total of 19,309 cases have been reported, according to The New York Times. Eighty-seven of those cases were reported on Monday, marking a 56% increase over the last 14 days, with 101 new hospitalizations reported, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, Virginia has reported 204,637 total cases, with 2,677 new cases reported on Monday, bringing their 14-day change to 22%, the Times reported. Meanwhile, 1,337 people were also hospitalized on Monday, according to the Times.
"We did not make this decision lightly," Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of the Office of Army National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, said in the previous release, according to NBC affiliate WRC-TV.
"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," Durham-Aguilera continued.
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"We understand that although this is disappointing for so many, we could no longer envision a way to safely accommodate the large number of visitors we typically host during this event," she added.
In the wake of their announcement, Wreaths Across America issued a statement on their Facebook and expressed their disappointment over the cancelation.
"As an organization, we are shocked by this unexpected turn of events. To say we are devastated, would be an understatement," they wrote on Monday. "It has been a trying year for all, and we too, want all our volunteers, donors and their communities to remain safe!"
"This is why over the last six months, the team at Wreaths has been working tirelessly with local, state and national officials to ensure that all of our outdoor wreath-placement events are done so safely, following local rules and mandates," they continued.
Despite the cancelation, Wreaths Across America vowed to "adjust and adapt" so they could fulfill their mission of "Remember, Honor and Teach."
"Our Gold Star Families have lost too much for us to just give up," the organization wrote. "Please stay tuned for more details about how you too can recommit to the mission and join us in remembering all those laid to rest at Arlington elsewhere in the country, in their honor."
Wreaths Across America has not yet commented on the recent change in plans by Arlington National Cemetery.
A spokesperson for the organization did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
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