Editorial: Why are major events still scheduled?

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

With COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths far below their current point, events were canceled en masse last year. Indoors and outdoors, dates that would have filled public spaces with cheerful conversation, music and vendors took a pandemic-induced break.

So, why are they still on schedule this year?

Partly, it’s the speed at which the delta variant has spread COVID-19. One month ago, the number of daily cases reported across North Carolina was less than 1,000. The number was 6,631 on Friday. Statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 were below 800 one month ago. Now, they are 3,147.

Last year, there also were lockdowns, anxiety about a new, unknown virus and restrictions that kept events from moving forward. This year, restrictions are few and far between. There’s less anxiety about the virus among the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

People who are vaccinated can be confident a case of COVID-19 will be less severe for them than someone who has no protection. Techniques like physical distancing, avoiding large groups indoors and mask-wearing can help prevent spread altogether

Because he hasn’t done it yet, Gov. Roy Cooper seems unlikely to return to previous mandates, including for masks, gatherings and businesses. In North Carolina, COVID-19 cases are growing closer to peaks in December and January, hospital beds are filling up, too. Even though vaccines are widely available, the state of the pandemic is much worse than the last time restrictions were in place.

Deaths in Rowan County, where the vaccination rate among people eligible is slightly more than half, already are occurring at the fastest rate since January and February.

The unfortunate reality is some of the folks in hospital beds now may not make it out. It could be too late to implement restrictions if deaths continue to increase.

That the governor hasn’t put in place the same rules amid the current spike has produced a major effect on local events — they’re not canceled.

Cancellation decisions are now in the hands of local organizers. Will they continue without any changes, ask attendees to wear masks or cancel altogether?

Without the governor’s restrictions last year, at least a few of the community’s largest events would have continued.

For almost every indoor situation, the answer to the spike should be nothing less than masks required unless organizers are willing to ask about people’s vaccination status. Even indoor events with a couple dozen people pose the potential to turn one or two COVID-19 cases into several.

Answers are more challenging for outdoor events, where COVID-19 has a tougher time infecting new people.

Among them is the Cheerwine Festival. It is likely to draw the biggest crowd of any upcoming event, especially with a band like the Spin Doctors as the headliner. But it’s just a few weeks away, which means money has already been spent on festivities and that it’s more difficult to cancel altogether.

Whether the city requires masks or simply asks people to wear them, plenty of people will be unvaccinated and maskless if the Cheerwine Festival isn’t canceled altogether.

During an emergency meeting last week, RSS Superintendent Tony Watlington told the Board of Education the number of quarantines in the system could lead to a shutdown and not be conducive to educating students if changes weren’t made.

A similar proposition might be relevant for event organizers: without changes to events or cancellations will the number of cases, hospitalizations and death be conducive for a healthy community?