Concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have prompted the cancellation, suspension or rescheduling of a number of the area’s traditional summertime events.
ALYS BEACH — The beachside resort community of Alys Beach has become the latest on a list of area communities and organizations that have canceled, suspended or rescheduled summertime events as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise public health concerns.
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Alys Beach joins Seaside, another beachside community along the tourist mecca of Walton County Road 30A, in wiping events off its calendar, at least for the summer.
And in terms of individual events, the 15th annual Destin Charity Wine Auction Weekend has been rescheduled for Aug. 21-22, with a number of changes from previous years.
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Calling the cancellations “a very difficult decision,” the announcement from Alys Beach notes that the move is based on the community’s “continued analysis of the health guidelines in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“As has been the case throughout the last several months, decisions are made out of concern for the safety and well-being of Alys Beach homeowners, event guests and team members,” the announcement also stated. “Ultimately, we felt that these events, along with regular daily summer programming and activities, would be too greatly compromised and difficult to manage safely based on existing health and safety protocols.”
In Seaside, all summer events, including the popular Fourth of July Parade and fireworks, have been canceled.
“While it pains us to not hold this signature patriotic event, we know we must not encourage crowds under these unprecedented circumstances,” the community noted on its website.
Another change in the calendar of area events is the moving of the Destin Charity Wine Auction to the weekend of Aug. 21-22. Previously scheduled for April 24-25, the event itself will also be changed in a number of ways to accommodate the “social distancing” seen as a critical component of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new format, the nine patron dinners comprising approximately 40 guests each — fewer than maximum crowd size of 50 people recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and adopted by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, will continue as scheduled on Aug. 21.
But on Aug. 22, a Saturday, rather than gathering a group of nearly 500 guests under a large tent in Grand Boulevard, patron dinners for the auction will be organized into five satellite parties across the Emerald Coast.
The auction will be broadcast live into each satellite party, where bidding teams will funnel bids into the auction.
The wine auction benefits a number of area charities, many of which address the needs of children, including AMIkids, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, Children in Crisis, Inc., and the Children’s Volunteer Health Network.
David Demarest, director of marketing and communications for the Walton County Tourist Development Council, said the event cancellations, suspensions and rescheduling did not come as a surprise.
In particular, he said, Seaside “is used to taking a leadership role” in addressing local issues.
Besides, he added, “there’s a good chance that people wouldn’t have wanted to go” to events like the ones that have been canceled or suspended precisely because they are worried about the potential for COVID-19 to spread in large crowds.
And, cautioning that things could change based on COVID-19-related news in the area, Demarest said that as of Thursday, and for the immediate future, lodging occupancy rates in the county are leading last year’s numbers.
“We’re ahead every week of the next six weeks,” Demarest said.
As of Thursday, Walton County had recorded a total of 205 positive COVID-19 cases, an increase of seven cases over Wednesday, according to Florida Department of Health data. Among the 205 cases, 176 have involved county residents, with 29 involving non-residents.
Also as of Thursday, slightly more than one-quarter of the county’s COVID-19 cases had been recorded in communities along or near the county’s beaches.
According to a Thursday news release from the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, 43 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Santa Rosa Beach, with an additional 10 cases coming from Miramar Beach.