COVID-19 has done what a depression, a recession, the civil unrest of the 1960s and several wars have failed to do: It has canceled homecoming.

More specifically, it has canceled homecoming at N.C. A&T, billed, probably accurately, as the Greatest Homecoming on Earth.

University officials announced recently that the festivities surrounding the annual eight-day celebration in Greensboro are canceled for 2020.

For the first time in 94 years, that means no pageants. No step shows. No concerts. No pregame parade. No sumptuous tailgate buffets. No fried-fish sandwiches slathered with coleslaw and doused with Texas Pete from Aggie FanFest vendors.

There will be a football game. But no overflowing stands. Attendance will be limited to less than half the capacity of Truist Stadium.

If ever you doubted the firm grip that the novel coronavirus holds on this state and this country, here’s your proof.

The homecoming game against South Carolina State is not until Oct. 31. Homecoming-related events would have been scheduled for Oct. 25-Nov. 1.

So this gives you a good idea where school officials expect things to stand in four months.

It could get worse. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper last week put on hold the state’s phased process of reopening businesses and relaxing virus-related restrictions.

Some Republicans will continue to blame Cooper for stalling the state’s economy. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who will challenge Cooper, a Democrat, for governor in November, said he plans to sue Cooper over business restrictions.

But the numbers don’t lie. On Friday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported a one-day increase of 1,635 new COVID-19 infections statewide — the fourth-highest daily increase since the pandemic began in mid-March. The virus claimed 13 more lives, bringing the total to 1,297.

So, the governor rightly has required the wearing of face coverings in most public spaces, as Greensboro did two days earlier. This is because more than a few of us have tired of social distancing and decided to party like it’s 1999.

Others are defying the precautions out of a distorted interpretation of what they consider freedom, even as they place others at risk. Hence, it took a judge’s order last week to prevent Ace Speedway in Alamance County from admitting thousands to races, in defiance of medical science, the law and common sense.

As Jimmy Buffet might put it: “It’s our own damned fault.”

In-person homecoming activities also have been canceled at UNCG (Oct. 23-24), Winston-Salem State (Sept. 13-19) and Elon (Oct. 12-18).

But A&T’s is the big one and the broader Greensboro community will feel its absence. As the News & Record’s John Newsom reported last week, A&T’s homecoming typically draws 100,000 visitors and injects about $10 million into the state’s economy. Hotel bookings alone account for about $6.3 million, Henri Fourrier, president and CEO of the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the News & Record. But not this year.

Thankfully, no one had to force these universities to put safety first, even as they realized the magnitude of their sacrifices.

We should follow their example. And live to party another day.

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