With the arrival of the fall months, festival season is quickly approaching. The sounds of live music, the smell of food cooking, the distance and the sight of vendors as far as the eye can see is a major part of the fall season for many.
However, this year could and perhaps should represent a break in tradition for many people in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the allure of festivals, shopping and live entertainment may be strong, I feel that the community as a whole should call this year’s festivals a wash for the sake of public health.
Officials with the city of Sherman announced late last week that the 39th annual Sherman Arts Fest will go on as scheduled later this month. The annual event, which draws thousands to the Sherman municipal lawn, showcases the city’s artistic community through displays vendors and live performances.
As of Tuesday, the total number of active cases of COVID-19 in Grayson County stands at 144 with a total of 1,577 since the pandemic began. Recommendations and guidelines regarding social distancing still remain in place even as the city plans to move forward with the event.
Other communities, including Denison and Whitesboro, have made the difficult choice to cancel large festivals this year out of an abundance of caution. It may not be the easiest decision to make, and there certainly is pressure to continue life as normal, but it is the right decision with regard to public health. I applaud both communities for making that decision.
While I understand that the city is trying to keep some semblance of normality in these difficult and unusual times, this simply isn’t the time for large gatherings.
Organizers for the event are taking steps to try and allow for social distancing, including efforts to spread out booths and attractions. Other events, including an annual charity run have outright been canceled or transitioned into a virtual event.
The steps that organizers are taking seem almost paradoxical and self-defeating as the entire event is one large attraction. Taking marginal steps to keep people apart, while attracting hundreds, if not thousands, isn’t taking the current health situation seriously.
It comes off as putting in little effort, doing the bare minimum, for the sake of saying, "Well, we tried" when things go wrong. With the ongoing pandemic there is ample real opportunity for things to go very, very wrong.
Organizers used Hot Summer Nights, the city’s annual concert series as an example of a larger event that can be put on safely. At the time, I argued that is wasn’t the right time for a concert series, and I feel the same today.
However, the comparison doesn’t quite match up. With the concert, there are less people actively moving around. With the size of the this event, there are too many figurative and literal moving parts to fully be socially distant at all times.
While there may not have been a massive increase in cases from the concert series that shouldn’t be seen as a sign that all is safe. Instead, I think we were lucky, and I’d rather not tempt fate twice.
There is an argument to be made about personal responsibility. If you don’t feel safe, don’t go. But, that argument ignores the fact that we do not live in a vacuum, and what affects one in the community can have ripple effects throughout.
I feel that the city has a responsibility to look out for the public health of the entire community. The easiest way to ensure that public health is to take this whole situation seriously, and that includes canceling large events like the festival.
This year has led to many hard decisions by cities, like Sherman. It has led to choices that may not be the most comfortable to make, and several longstanding events and traditions have had to take a mulligan in 2020. However, that is what it is going to take for the community to get past this epidemic, and it is a price I think we all should feel comfortable paying.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.