NEW YORK (AP) - Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is returning Thursday in full albeit with precautions.
Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers - and, of course, Santa Claus - will once again wend though 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped last year.
Spectators, shut out in 2020, can line the route again. High school and college marching bands from around the country have been invited back to the lineup; most of last year's performers were locally based to cut down on travel. The giant balloons, tethered to vehicles last year, are getting their costumed handlers back.
“Last year was obviously symbolic. It wasn't everything we would have liked to see in a parade, but they kept it going,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Wednesday. “This year, the parade's back at full strength."
“It's going to be a great sign of our rebirth,” he added.
The Thanksgiving parade is the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.
Still, safety measures continue. Parade staffers and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers can shed them. There's no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy's is encouraging them to cover their faces. A popular pre-parade spectacle - the inflation of the giant balloons - was limited to vaccinated viewers.
The Thanksgiving event also comes days after an SUV driver plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring over 60. Authorities said the driver, who has been charged with intentional homicide, was speeding away from police after a domestic dispute.
De Blasio said Wednesday there was no credible, specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but the New York Police Department's security measures would be extensive, as usual.
"I'm very confident in what the NYPD has prepared to keep everyone safe tomorrow," he said.
Thousands of police officers are assigned to the parade route, from streets to rooftops. Cars are blocked from the parade route with sand-filled garbage trucks, other heavy vehicles and approximately 360,000 pounds (163,000 kilograms) of concrete barriers.
Bomb-detecting dogs, bomb squad officers, heavy-weapons teams, radiation and chemical sensors and over 300 extra cameras also are being dispatched to the parade route, NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism Martine Materasso said.
Inside the barricades, the parade features about 8,000 participants, four dozen balloons of varying sizes and two dozen floats.
New balloon giants joining the lineup include the title character from the Netflix series “Ada Twist, Scientist”; the Pokémon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared before, in different form), and Grogu, aka “Baby Yoda,” from the television show “The Mandalorian." New floats are coming from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz to NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
Entertainers and celebrities include Carrie Underwood, Jon Batiste, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Miss America Camille Schrier, the band Foreigner, and many others. Several Broadway musical casts and the Radio City Rockettes also are due to perform.