SUMMER REOPENING SPARKS CONCERN

cartoon+by+Grace+He

Grace He

cartoon by Grace He

Ella Mitchell, Executive Entertainment Editor

Frontier Days, for my family at least, is a week-long extravaganza. Our proximity to the Arlington Heights festival always makes for large gatherings that feature sweltering, face-melting heat that requires a fan the size of a small giraffe, lots of carnival games that will inevitably be lost and obnoxious goats that one must endure for the sake of the small children who are petting zoo diehards. 

The gathering of friends and family for the festival is definitely something I look forward to every summer. There is always so much to do, whether it be meeting up with friends and family at our annual cookout, defending my rib-eating contest crown or watching fireworks from the roof of my friend’s car. But then COVID-19 came along and threw a flaming wrench into everyone’s plans, including those for the 2020 festival.

I was disappointed, sure, but understood the decision. The safety of the community trumps my undying love of funnel cakes. The festival wasn’t the first thing to be canceled, and it most certainly would not be the last.

Fast forward a year later, and the suburbs find themselves at yet another crossroad, trying to come to a decision about reopening of summer activities, including the 2021 festivals. Arlington Heights opted to remain closed for the Frontier Days season while Elk Grove chose to open back up for its summer season. Now, I love attending the festival every year and understand the rationale behind both drastically different decisions. But, I can’t help but be concerned by the lack of safety restrictions and the gaggles of people that come along with the reopening of summer events such as the Elk Grove festival.

For the summer of 2021, Elk Grove has a full slate of events including Memorial Day activities, Rotary Fest, concerts and other community events. Neither masks nor social distancing is required at any of these events. 

According to the Mayor of Elk Grove, Craig Johnson, people can choose to wear masks and social distance, and masks will be provided for those who wish to wear them. Beyond these optional guidelines, the summer events in Elk Grove plan on returning to business as usual. This decision came weeks before the CDC’s recent announcement, stating that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks in any setting, unless it is in accordance with federal, state, or local guidelines. 

Upon hearing this, I will admit I was slightly surprised because it has been a hot second since we’ve been able to go out into the world naked-faced. Even if the villages decide that reopening is in their members best interests, I assumed some safety precautions would be in place. Instead, everyone is being tossed into a mask-less cesspool of funnel cake grease, sweat and oh-so-many germs.  

This decision comes in stark contrast to the decision made by Mayor of Arlington Heights, Tom Hayes. Arlington Heights ruled to not host their annual festival this year due to safety concerns. Both mayors explained multiple reasons as to why reopening was or was not was the right decision for their communities. 

For Johnson, the decision to reopen Elk Grove for typical summer activities was based on multiple factors. According to Johnson, money was not a consideration, as these festivals and activities are fully funded by the village itself. However, it is important to note that the businesses in the community will be greatly impacted by the influx of people flowing into the town for the events. 

Johnson said that the decision that was reached was based primarily on the COVID-19 numbers at the time as well as the fact that vaccination is available for many Elk Grove citizens who chose to get it. 

Since April 12, people 16 and over have had the option to get vaccinated. Even more recently, on May 10, Pfizer has been approved to administer their vaccine to people ages 12-15 on an emergency basis. The availability of vaccines to the public played a role in Johnson’s decision. 

“If people chose not to get vaccinated that’s their choice, their right, but for the rest of us, we’re moving on,” Johnson told The Prospector. “We’re going to get back to normal.”

If people chose not to get vaccinated that’s their choice, their right, but for the rest of us, we’re moving on. We’re going to get back to normal.”

— Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson

While it is true that vaccines are available for people over the age of 12, what does that mean for younger members of the community who still wish to get involved? As it currently stands, there is no available vaccine for those younger age groups that may be in attendance. 

While this wouldn’t be an issue for events that cater to a more adult audience, it does bring into question the target audience for some of the “community-oriented” events.

For example, on July 18 there is a Play, Party, Picnic that the village, library and park district work together to put on. The day is a community event where there are a multitude of activities for kids to participate in. 

Now, no shade to adults who want to make arts and crafts at this community event, but it seems to me that some of these activities target more of the younger audiences. Younger audiences who cannot be vaccinated at this time. Younger audiences who will not be protected by masks, social distancing, or vaccines during any of these events. Younger audiences who can continue to spread COVID-19 around the community. 

Not only will non-vaccinated minis contribute to the spread, it is important to mention that vaccinated adults might as well. The vaccine is an invaluable tool in order to return us to “normal” life, but no vaccine can be 100%. This goes for any vaccine; it’s not some miracle juice, rather its purpose is to prevent cases and limit the disease’s severity. As it currently stands, only 35.8% of the total population in the United States is vaccinated, which is not quite the percent needed to achieve herd immunity. 

If a large reason behind reopening is in fact the availability of vaccines, it seems irresponsible to host an event that caters to those who cannot yet receive it. Ultimately, the decision of masks, social distancing and vaccination is firmly falling into the hands of the individuals. Call me a cynic, but I’m not sure how much I trust the hands of the individual. Who knows where their hands have been?

According to Johnson, vaccination alone is not the sole reason for opening. The rising rates of mental health and alcoholism during the pandemic also played a role in the decision. He says that the people being stuck at homes creates conditions that allow rates of both mental health problems and alcoholism to rise. 

“We’ve gotten to the point where [the] disease is not as bad as the effects by being locked up [are],” Johnson said. “We got to get to the point where we’re back to normal in a safe way.”

This begs the question of what normal even means. Is it going into a time vortex and pretending the last year and a half don’t exist? Is it picking up the pieces from our current situation and trying to fit them all back together? Or is it somewhere in between? Whatever it means, I don’t think normal means rewind and start over. It seems like the meaning of normal is up to interpretation, as seen by the two contrasting decisions made by the Mayor of Elk Grove and the Mayor of Arlington Heights. 

Arlington Heights took a different approach when it comes to reopening. Erring more on the side of caution and interpreting the COVID-19 numbers at the time of the decision, they chose to remain closed for Frontier Days and other summer activities. 

Frontier Days is a not-for-profit organization that runs the 4th of July festivities in Arlington Heights every year. They have a close relationship with Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes and eventually decided the risk of putting everything together only for it to potentially fall through due to safety reasons wasn’t worth it. 

There is so much planning that goes into events such as Frontier Days, and it was important to Hayes to make sure everyone involved could be as safe as possible. 

“We want to open up as soon as possible,” Hayes said. “But we want to make sure whenever we do that we are keeping our residents and visitors safe. That’s really the ultimate concern for me and the festival volunteers and organizers … they just felt it wasn’t possible based on the situation at the time.”

While rides and bucketfuls of cotton candy are not currently on this summer’s agenda, that’s not to say that nothing entertainment-wise is coming to Arlington Heights. Instead, Hayes, on the behalf of Arlington Heights, plans on playing it by ear, adjusting the parameters and potential activities as the health guidelines continue to change. 

For the time being, Arlington Alfresco will continue to run at local restaurants in downtown Arlington Heights. Families will continue to have the opportunity to dine outside at any of downtown’s restaurants and bask in the glory of the great outdoors. 

There will also be outdoor Metropolis performances, starting with “Little Shop of Horrors” occurring right in front of North School Park on Eastman Avenue. Shows will take place in a tent with a 72-person capacity. 

And if things continue trending upwards, the chance for even more safely distanced events is within the realm of possibility for Arlington Heights. Restrictions are constantly changing, and if we just keep following safety guidelines, who knows what the circumstances will be two months from now. Depending on the numbers, the reopening of smaller, socially distanced events is still possible. Possible, that is, only if we do not move backwards by diving headfirst into a pool of maskless ick.

While fan-favorites like the art festival, concerts featuring everyone’s parents’ favorite band, American English, and pony rides might not be on the docket, Hayes says that the village of Arlington Heights will do everything they can to have some sort of safe event. Whether that means rides or something else, remains to be seen. 

 Sounds like there still might be hope for all of those people out there craving fair-certified hotdogs or a goat-tastic petting zoo adventure after all.