strawberry festival

Amidst The Pandemic, Fairs May Not Be The Best Safe Haven

From pandemics to violence, it’s difficult to find a safe place to escape the chaos ensuing in the world today and fairs appear to be not such a solution.

March and April are popular times of the year for festivals, fairs, and carnivals alike. People come across the state in different counties to eat deep-fried food, ride exciting attractions and view various entertainment shows.

However, as COVID-19 has become a part of daily life, each festival has put in place its own guidelines based on its county. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings when staying six feet apart is not possible. Whether people choose to follow those suggestions is another matter.

The Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Fla. is one of the biggest fairs to take place near Polk County. On their website, they promote a lengthy, fairly detailed list of COVID-19 guidelines, which include wearing a mask and staying socially distanced if not wearing a face covering.

The Strawberry Festival requires its vendors to wear masks, but only “strongly recommends” for guests to. Upon attending the festival, the majority of guests were not wearing proper protection and the crowds were so thick that it was nearly impossible to ever be socially distanced.

“I was just overwhelmed with how many people were there,” said Emily Mathison, a Southeastern University student who attended the festival. 

Mathison expressed how she typically is one to attend concerts and theme parks, but even the Strawberry Festival was too crowded for her liking.

“Nobody was enforcing anything. They let way too many people in,” Mathison said in regard to the regulations stated on the website. “They said it but didn’t do anything.”

People like Mathison have expressed their opinions on how the Festival should have enforced their regulations instead of simply suggesting. Although it is a difficult balance as Polk County does not have a mask mandate currently and with citizens desiring to return to their normal lives prior to the pandemic.

Haley Summer, a Strawberry Festival vendor for Parkesdale Farms, had a different experience though with pandemic fairs. Carrying a perspective from the working side, rather than the visiting side, Summer expressed that there was space ensured for social distancing and time in between rushes to clean.

“I felt perfectly fine with how things were set up, even on busy days,” Summer said.

Summer informed that the Festival did provide regulations to the vendors, as posted on the website, and encouraged them to do what they felt was right with such precautions.

“We all did our best in making our work feel safe and as well as the public,” she stated. “As vendors, you can only do so much.”

The Strawberry Festival was not the only place to run into problems. The Sarasota County Fair dealt with their own situations too but on a different scale. An incident occurred resulting in an 18-year-old man getting shot by a 15-year-old male. Fortunately, this event was not fatal, but that did not keep people from voicing their concerns on social media. Many individuals discussed their feelings of unsafety and their disappointment with the fair experience. However, some guests were understanding and empathetic to the situation. 

The Sarasota County Fair has reinforced their police presence on the grounds, as well as utilizing new security screen systems, as their Facebook account states.

These are unprecedented times where some circumstances can be prevented while others are out of our control. People should take precautions to keep safe in both the ill and brutal times that exist.

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