The annual EasterFest celebration, scheduled to be held in Garfield Park on August 29, has been cancelled by Shawnee County officials for the second time this year, organizers learned on Thursday.
The seventh annual event was originally scheduled for April 11, the day before Easter, and was one of many events cancelled and/or postponed because of the onset of the coronavirus “pandemic.”
After conferring with vendors and other participants, who overwhelmingly wanted to postpone rather than cancel, organizers decided to reschedule for much later in the year, and thus the August 29 date was set, and was once again approved by the county.
After a loosening of the shutdown, and with increased testing, a resurgence of “active” cases was recorded on the county tracking website, beginning in June. Active cases are the number of positive test results, not necessarily actual cases. Since mid-July there has been a leveling off and then a decline in cases & hospitalizations. Charts show that every day in August had less cases than any day in July. On August 14, only 4 people were hospitalized in Shawnee County. There has not been a covid-related death in the county since July 24.
Because of these statistics, EasterFest organizers were confident in their ability to put on a safe family event at the end of August. County-recommended protocols for safe events were put into place, advertising monies were spent, supplies ordered, and vendors were signed up – including small businesses, non-profits, food trucks, bands and more. Information was gathered from other successful recent county events to fine-tune safety procedures. These included spreading out of vendor booths, controlled entrance and exits of buildings, occupancy limits and sanitization, along with signs, ropes and markings to facilitate social distancing, among other things. Plenty of masks and hand sanitizer was also ordered.
In addition, the parade portion of the event was cancelled to avoid crowding, and the egg hunt was changed for the same reason. The revised egg hunt procedure was for families to go from booth to booth to gather the eggs, so that social distancing could be observed. With a five-hour time frame, there was plenty of time for families to visit booths and enjoy the fair without crowding. Even seating for the live music at the outdoor gazebo was spread out and grouped for families.
Also, vendors at the event were to wear masks and provide hand sanitizer at their booths.
Somehow, county officials still found reason to cancel the event with a little over two weeks to go. No reason was given, other than “concerns over mass gatherings.” No one from the county contacted organizers to discuss plans or suggest further protocols.
The result is surprise, frustration – even anger – expressed by organizers, staff, vendors and other participants when the sudden announcement came. The public too, has expressed those same feelings at not being able to make their own decision whether to attend the event.
Organizers remarked about the responses to announcements of the rescheduled event, such as “oh, I’m so glad you are doing this!” and “It sounds like a great way to lifts some spirits and have a little fun” to “I will also pray for this event to impact the community.” It seems the community was itching for more such events and fed up with them being cancelled.
In contrast, reactions to the second cancellation of the event by the county have been of extreme disappointment, frustration and anger over what is seen as government overreach and interference in people’s lives and freedom to make their own choices.
It is interesting that the EasterFest cancellation happened on the same day that the county approved bars to be open for an additional hour on three nights of the week.
There is also the monetary aspect of small businesses and non-profits spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to prepare and promote such an event – money which is wasted and cannot be replaced.
How will these organizations be able to promote future events?
What will be done with 3000 eggs and candy that was to have gone to the community’s children?
Why can people gather in bars and restaurants, but not in parks?
Why can there be a huge car show downtown, but not a fair in Garfield Park, where there is plenty of room for social distancing?
Why put out safety protocols, which people spend time and money to implement, and then cancel the event after the time and money is already spent?
When will the people’s freedom be restored?
These are questions that need answers!
Dustin Nichols, Shawnee County Emergency Management Director, said he did not make the decision to cancel the event, he just makes “recommendations” based on what he “thinks will happen” in the next 2-3 weeks.
Phone calls to other county officials were not returned promptly.
People in the community understood and complied voluntarily in March and April when we didn’t know any details about this new “pandemic.”
But now everyone is more informed and can see what is going on, and they don’t like it.
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The public is increasingly upset with state and county officials making decisions that affect their lives, without any accountability. People are not even being afforded the opportunity to make their own decisions about what places they feel safe going to.
If you would like to share your concerns, you can contact your local officials:
Tim Laurent, Shawnee County Parks + Rec Director: firstname.lastname@example.org 785251-6800
Dustin Nichols, Shawnee County Emergency Management Director: email@example.com 785-251-4152
Aaron Mays, County Commissioner: aaron.mays@sncous
Kevin Cook, County Commissioner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Riphahn, County Commissioner: email@example.com
The next county commission meeting is Thursday, August 20, at 9 AM in Room B11 of the Shawnee County Courthouse.
The annual EasterFest celebration is organized by the Capital City Christian Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit www.C5Alive.org, or email info@C5Alive.org.
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