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Carnivals, Fairs, Festivals, and Amusement Parks - Are we last to open and why?
A Carnival Warehouse / Amusement Park Warehouse Exclusive Editorial

Will large fairs, festivals, and amusement parks be last to open?
Photo by Scooter Korek

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The roadmap to re-opening the country was released by the President on Thursday and it shows a three-tiered guideline for states.  Not surprisingly, mass gatherings and large outdoor events were in the last phase of the plan.  This echoes opinion we hear constantly in the media - avoid mass gatherings, no more than x number of people together, etc.  At first blush this seems like a good idea, being around large numbers of people will spread the disease rapidly; causing so called “super-spreader events”.

But is There Any Science Behind This Advice?

We don't mean to be contrarian or ignore any health threats. We encourage everyone to follow CDC guidelines for reopening plans and even come up with additional ideas that will help to keep our patrons and workers healthy - more on that below. But, we also want to see us approach the problem from a factual, scientific standpoint.  

Everyone is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Our industry, and we are speaking here of outdoor events, amusement parks and carnivals, has sacrificed a great deal and we are always there to help when called upon.  Look at how many fairs assist with disaster relief year after year in their local communities as just one example.

We would ask you however,  to consider some data that has been collected from three studies as well as two prominent situations from our own industry to consider how we should approach the perception that large outdoor events are dangerous for the spread of COVID-19.

Medical Studies Seem to Show Outdoor Transmission is Rare

First, a study was done in China that traced cases in 320 cities outside of Hubei Province (the epicenter of the outbreak) from Jan 4 - Feb. 11.  They identified cases that had three or more outbreaks and then categorized them by method of outbreak:  homes, transport, food, entertainment, shopping, and miscellaneous.  The study found about 70% of the cases studied involved home outbreaks of 3 - 5 people; transportation was second.  Surprisingly, the study found NO OUTBREAKS WITH 3 OR MORE CASES IN AN OUTDOOR ENVIRONMENT.

COVID China Case Study

Second, a study done by Prof. Hendrik Streeck of the University of Bonn, in Heisenberg, the center of Germany's outbreak, found “There is no significant risk of catching the disease when you go shopping. Severe outbreaks of the infection were always a result of people being closer together over a longer period of time.”

Third, the Department of Homeland Security released a study on April 13 that tested the stability of the virus on solid surfaces as a function of temperature, humidity and solar intensity.  They found that the virus was "most stable in cool/dry conditions.  Virus decays faster in higher humidity and temperature, much faster in sunlight.”  Additionally, they find “operations outdoors in sunlight reduces risk” (emphasis added).

How Outdoor Events and Amusement Parks Impacted the Virus Spread in February and March

Florida State Fair

Finally, some important information could be studied within our own industry.  In Florida, the first positive cases were recorded on March 1st in Hillsborough County.  As we now know from antibody studies done in the US by Stanford University as well as the German antibody study cited above, there are far more cases, largely asymptomatic, than the number of actual positive tests.

In the month of February and into March, Hillsborough County hosted two of the largest events not only in Florida, but in the whole nation.  Over 800,000 people congregated in Hillsborough County, FL from mid-February through March 8th for the Florida State Fair and the Florida Strawberry Festival, a time we know the virus was present in the community.  With an incubation period estimated to be 5 - 8 days, we would logically expect an outbreak in Hillsborough County in the weeks following these huge events if outdoor events truly are sources of super spreading.  The data however, does not bear this out.  Hillsborough is not a “hot spot” with a disproportionate number of cases like New York City or New Orleans. 

Additionally, we have the case of Orange County, FL.  The Central Florida Fair, with about 200,000 attendees, had a successful run through March 8th.  Walt Disney World, Universal, and all other Orlando area theme parks were open through the weekend of March 14th, attracting hundreds of thousands from all over the country.  The first death from COVID-19 in Orange County occurred on March 16th and there were positive tests in that time period.  So with the virus present in the area, and people coming from all over the country to visit the parks and interact with employees, restaurant workers etc,  as well as a major fair in the area, did the number of cases in the area spike and Orange County become a hotspot?  The simple answer is no.  You would again expect to see large numbers of cases after the incubation period if the virus is easily spread through outdoor contacts in venues like parks and fairs.  By March 25th, according to press reports, there were just 89 cases reported in Orange County. To this day, Orange County does not have a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases.

To reiterate, we point out this information to raise questions that we think should be studied.  Within our own industry, we could likely provide some interesting case study information about the spread of COVID-19 at large events during a time when the virus was spreading in the community.  Orange and Hillsborough Counties are not the only examples.  The Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair ran through March 8th when the virus was present in Lee County and there are several other examples throughout the state.  Most northern states are looking ahead to summer events which will be the first outdoor mass gatherings in the area because of winter temperatures, but Florida can provide some insightful data, because large events were actually operating and amusement parks were open during a time the virus was spreading.

President Donald Trump & Florida Governor Ron DeSantis discuss theme parks in Florida during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Please note, this press conference took place on April 28, 2020 - nearly a week after this article was originally published.

Will Large Events and Amusement Parks Be The Last to Open?

As we move forward towards opening the country, the conventional wisdom seems to be that large, outdoor events will be last to open.  Our industry could be further adversely affected without basis in fact.  We learn more and more about the virus each day as it is studied. We encourage our industry organizations, individual events, and interested companies to gather factual information and study the science around outdoor events and COVID-19, as there seems to be some very strong evidence that points to outdoor events not being the danger to the public that everyone assumes they are.  This could be a great project for a Florida University, given the location and unique set of facts.

Not all “mass gatherings” are created equal.  Are you safer from the virus in a movie theater, sitting close to others for long periods of time, or at a fair, festival, carnival or amusement park where the interactions are brief and largely in sunlight?  The answers to questions like this will determine how quickly we can safely get back to the business of entertaining millions throughout the world. We shouldn't be first, but do we deserve to be last?

In the coming weeks, Carnival Warehouse and Amusement Park Warehouse will be publishing articles on how our related industries are dealing with the pandemic and our responses to it.  We will feature articles on how fairs, festivals, carnivals and parks are working to prepare for opening, what some are doing to try and generate income during their regular business closures, articles on ideas for best practices for re-opening from industry experts and we encourage you to share your ideas on our message boards where we will be opening some new forums.  We will also continue to provide resources and information to help you make decisions for your business and the community at large.  Thank you for your continued readership, we hope we can continue to provide you with the best information facing the outdoor amusement industry in this time of crisis.

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