PHOENIX — Large events in Arizona -- those that would have more than 50 people -- will no longer need to be approved by local governments or the Arizona Department of Health Services, Governor Doug Ducey announced Thursday, continuing the phasing-out of the state's COVID-19-related mitigation strategies as cases have seemingly decreased and vaccinations have increased.
Several events in the last year, such as concerts, food festivals, music festivals, and the Arizona State Fair, were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. Others went on, but virtually.
A few events, including the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Maricopa County Home & Garden Show, Barrett-Jackson, and Spring Training, have been allowed to go on with limited capacities, mask requirements, and social distancing.
However, most smaller events, such as local food festivals at city-owned parks, have remained on hold.
“In Arizona, we never did a shutdown, so it’s impossible to have a grand reopening," Gov. Ducey said in a prepared statement. "Instead, we are continuing to take reasonable, safe and sensible steps. The measures put in place last summer allowed Arizona to fight back COVID-19."
Dave Tyda, the founder of Phoenix Pizza Fest, Donut Fest, and FRIED Fest, said he was excited about the governor's announcement.
"I am excited to know that now I will most likely be able to get a permit to throw an event because it’s been pretty heartbreaking to see events on private property over 50 people," said Tyda, noting that he personally wasn't comfortable putting on an event when case counts were rising.
However, he also cautioned that even with the restrictions lifted, it doesn't mean events will happen right away due to the summer months, arguably the season's slowdown, being weeks away. The cities themselves also have to decide when and how to issue special event permits, if an event is being held at a city-owned property.
It also doesn't mean that some of those COVID-19 safety measures that people may have grown accustomed to will go away, he said.
"I know I’m still going to want to put some protocols in place. We’re not going to be out of the pandemic by November," said Tyda. "Just because restrictions are lifted, doesn’t mean I might not want to hold myself accountable because I have to sleep at night and make people safe and feel safe. I may still reduce attendance by a little bit. I will definitely implement markers for six-foot distancing at line queues. I’ll sanitize high-touch surfaces, some things like that. I don’t see why I wouldn’t do that my first festival back."
Steve LeVine, CEO at Steve LeVine Entertainment, which helps produce and market Scottsdale Fashion Week, Chandler Ostrich Festival, and books DJs and artists at local clubs and venues, said the "light switch" to events has just been turned back on. Though, he too, is both excited and seemingly cautious.
"Today the light switch is on, events over 50 people, but could things change in a month?" he said.
In spring 2020, he and his team postponed the Chandler Ostrich Festival -- an event that can draw more than 100,000 people -- hours before the gates were set to open.
"We were devastated last year. I don’t ever want to go through that again in my life, ya know, having to start an event and shut the doors an hour before we’re supposed to open," he said.
At the same time, he said the planning of future events reignited Thursday. "Today, it’s already started. I’ve already sent out emails. My phone has absolutely blown up today," he said.
He said plans are underway for Scottsdale Fashion Week and that an "announcement" regarding whether or not Chandler Ostrich Festival would still take place in the fall was on the horizon.
"Is fall the right time? It’s still a question I have," he said. The popular event was postponed from spring 2020 to the fall, then pushed to spring 2021 and, ultimately, postponed again to the fall. Dates, ticket information, nor music acts have not been announced.
On Wednesday, Tyda sent an email to some of his vendors to see if they would be interested in being part of Phoenix Pizza Fest in the fall, should it be allowed to go on. Tentative dates are set for Nov. 13-14, 2021, though permits allowing the event have not been issued yet.
Due to the pandemic, Tyda said it's possible that some event producers have had to leave the industry for other jobs, and that some events may not come back at all because
producers haven't been able to put on event since fall 2019 or early 2020 and, therefore, might not have the money to do it.
He also is concerned with how many, if any, events come back in the fall and how producers schedule them.
"I do worry about a sort of market compression kind of effect where we have weekends where there’s almost too many festivals, vendors or spread too thin, and they have to choose between events," he said.
Jeremy Helfgot, spokesperson for Phoenix Pride, which had to postpone both its weekend festival and parade from spring 2020 to fall 2021, said organizers were "optimistic, cautiously so, but optimistic"
"Our community is ready for this. We’ll take whatever measures are necessary to keep people safe and to keep people healthy, but we’re looking forward to the day we can gather as a community and celebrate again," he said.
Currently, Phoenix Pride is scheduled for November 6-7, 2021. The parade is scheduled for Nov. 6.
Gov. Ducey on Thursday also lifted requirements on businesses to require masks and social distancing within their stores and restaurants, instead, keeping referring to those as "recommendations" and allowing individual businesses to make their own decisions.
"Today, we are in a different spot, and we are also a lot smarter. I’m confident Arizona’s businesses and citizens will continue to practice the fundamentals and act responsibly as we gradually get back to normal," Gov. Ducey said in a prepared statement.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information comes into the newsroom.