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San Antonio, In The Grip Of COVID-19, Loses Fiesta 2020

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Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio

For the first time since World War II, San Antonio will not have Fiesta.

The annual event was initially pushed back to November, but officials now say the recent health directives from local and state officials, and the surge in cases, make the event impossible.

In a Facebook post, Fiesta San Antonio said the event would return during the normal April time frame in 2021.

Fiesta Commission President Walter Serna Jr. told TPR that the decision was difficult.

“At the end of the day, it was about the health and safety of everyone,” he said. “It was tough for us because there's so many nonprofits — over 300 nonprofits — who rely on Fiesta to help fund their organizations and fund some of the causes in this community,” he said. “You have vendors who rely on Fiesta to make a living.”

When asked about the event earlier this week, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg mentioned an upcoming announcement, foreshadowing the cancellation.

“Obviously, we are cognizant of where we are with this disease, and we are not taking that lightly,” he said.

Serna said Nirenberg was a driving force in the cancellation.

“The way this virus is spread, and the way it surged again, we don't believe — especially the mayor did not believe — that there was a path forward to hold Fiesta in November,” Serna said.

Nirenberg was asked about the cancellation on Friday. He said he remained hopeful for a Fiesta 2021.

“What do we want to make sure is that we have a great Fiesta 2021," he said. "We will compromise our ability to do that if we take the response to this pandemic carelessly. So our focus is to get everyone healthy and plan for 2021.”

San Antonio-area counties, along with the entire state, have seen a sharp increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases following Gov. Greg Abbott’s move to reopen non-essential businesses while limiting the authority of local officials to implement restrictions.

Bexar County, where Fiesta is held, has set multiple single-day records for increase in cases and hospitalizations.

The decision to return to normal in April 2021 is based more on hopeful optimism than it is on hard data that San Antonio will have overcome COVID-19 by then.

“We are optimists,” Serna said. “We’re hopeful because all we have is hope.”

Four months ago, when the commission announced the postponement of the event from April to November, officials also didn’t provide clear answers about the reason for moving a massive gathering to a time of year that epidemiologists had already predicted would see a “second wave.”

At the time, Amy Shaw, executive director of the Fiesta Commission, said they planned to monitor the situation.

"We will be hand in glove with Metro Health and the City of San Antonio like we have been for the last several weeks, and just keep watching it," she said.

Serna said the commission initially hoped the virus would be under control by the summer. Now, he said, he hopes it will be under control by April 2021.

“There's a lot of things that are going to happen prior to next April,” he said. “Hopefully, we have a better grip on how to handle this virus.”

According to the commission, more than 3 million people attend the event each year, and it generates a $340 million impact.

The first Fiesta was held in 1891, and before 2020 it had only been canceled during World War I and World War II.

Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@tpr.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

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