Lives Vs. Livelihood: Are We Ready for Community Events?

 

This weekend the Savannah Señor Taco Festival and tours of the Coastal Heritage Society's Georgia State Railroad Museum and Old Fort Jackson are a few of the first events to happen after the reopening of the state of Georgia. Residents are hungry to get out of their homes and fill their social starvation, but at what cost?

As summer approaches, food festivals and celebrations are usually a highlight of hot, southern weekends. However, this year everything has changed as our society has been — and continues to be — ravished by the Coronavirus. 

This weekend the Savannah Señor Taco Festival is going on as business as usual in Daffin Park, offering live music, beer, wine, and of course tacos galore. The Coastal Heritage Society is also reopening their doors and offering tours at the Georgia State Railroad Museum and Old Fort Jackson. In the recent emergence from the state-issued quarantine, should Savannhians ask themselves: Is this a good idea? 

Georgia State Railroad Museum. PHOTO PROVIDED Old Fort Jackson. PHOTO PROVIDED

 

In a time where Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is looking into the legal implications of enforcing mandatory masks in public, is a crowded festival acceptable in the middle of a pandemic where millions across the globe are encouraging social distancing practices? 

Savannah, along with most of Georgia, has been on lock down since the coronavirus reached America, and most, if not all community events have been canceled or rescheduled to later dates in the uncertain future in an effort to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This virus has completely reshaped how social events are handled, if they happen at all. With the end of the shelter-in-place order in Georgia, many businesses have reopened with new measures for social distancing, including the use of masks as well as limiting the number of individuals allowed in a particular space, and many businesses are still concerned enough to keep their doors shuttered. 

Is a food festival this early on a precarious gamble putting the lives of many in danger? Or is it an effort of our community to bring back some normalcy, while other cities are still in strict lockdown? Are we setting a bad example or a strong defiance of spirit in the face of this killer virus? As of now, major events, including the Olympics, Masters and Kentucky Derby have been canceled in response to the Coronavirus. For a full list of rescinded major world events visit here

Should we completely void all safety measures put in place for the sake of attempting to return to normalcy and enjoyment of organized events? To attend this festival, should participants be required to wear masks and gloves? Masks and gloves could make sampling an array of delicious tacos and beverages rather messy and tedious for festival attendees. With all the food trucks and service workers, proper sanitation is doubtful to be guaranteed. How will a festival look with everyone six-feet apart and can the festival handle those unwilling to practice safe social distancing practices? 

Although Savannah has one of the lowest infection rates in the state of Georgia, reopening our city and easing restrictions too early could lead to a spike in cases, as seen in other cities with similar conditions. 

Public healthcare expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warns NBC that reopening states and cities could cause an emergence of outbreaks that cannot be controlled. With the idea that a vaccine will not be available for at least 12 months and the lack of broad testing available as of now in the country, it begs the question: How long is too long? The country is in limbo, with a rising unemployment rate and an uncertain future for the economy. How long will the country be able to pause cities while the masses grow agitated and possibly hungry while sheltered at home? New evidence from surveys, including one conducted by the esteemed Kaiser Family Foundation, is showing the rise of mental illness during this pandemic as those in isolation lose more touch with humanity each day. With lives on the line, can we be sure that hosting a festival with hundreds of sweaty, tired people in close parameters would be ideal for keeping our community safe and clean?  

As Georgia is one of the first states to start the process of reopening, Governor Kemp has received backlash, especially from many public health professionals who strongly believe that it is far too soon. Although Georgia is reopen, it is not the same place as it was in the beginning of March. Instead, it is part of what we call in 2020 the “new normal,” which is the world after quarantine. Now there is a collective awareness of the virus, and social distancing is being adopted on a daily basis, infiltrating how some have started to run their businesses as well as social lives. There are strong advocates on both sides of the controversial question: Is it too early to resume our lives? It is a difficult question to answer, for it deals with the battle of living and dying. Opening up Georgia is a fight between the loss of lives and livelihoods. With all of these factors, it is understandable for the push to open the state economically, but are we ready for events with hundreds of people in a limited space? Is it even possible for us to maintain the CDC recommended requirements of  social distancing and of handwashing in a music and food fueled festival? It has been said that a cough or sneeze can travel up to 27 feet, so even if guests maintain the recommended 6 feet apart rule, it may not be enough. 

Is the risk of increasing our Covid-19 infected population worth this afternoon of seemingly innocent fun? These are questions that are perplexing our political leaders, health officials and citizens. With the decline of the Covid-19 contaminated population in Savannah due to months in quarantine, should we risk destroying the progress we have made? Only time will tell.