HURRICANE — Following a heated discourse between the public and the Hurricane City Council Thursday evening, the council decided to table their decision on whether to hold Peach Days for two weeks.
On average, Peach Days brings in some 20,000 to 30,000 people to walk the street, enjoy live entertainment, reunite with family members and enjoy tasty treats from a variety of street vendors. Yet, due to the risk of spreading COVID-19, the City Council has been hesitant about moving forward with holding the 2020 Peach Days celebration.
During the public comment period of the meeting, at least seven people stood up and spoke in favor of Peach Days. Only one person spoke in favor of canceling Peach Days. The entire discourse continued for about two hours.
Tom Hirschi, a former mayor of Hurricane, spoke in favor of holding Peach Days.
“They haven’t canceled the (Washington) County Fair, and that’s two or three weeks before our Peach Days, so why should we cancel,” he said.
Jarolyn Stout, a member of the Peach Days board, said it should be up to individuals to determine for themselves whether they feel comfortable going to Peach Days.
“I feel like fear cannot govern our lives. We have to be safe and smart, and so I understand that side, and I understand some people worrying,” she said.
Stout also stressed the financial importance of Peach Days for many vendors’ livelihoods. She suggested putting in place a plan that would designate handwashing stations and other safety precautions in order to help keep areas sanitized.
“I think that we can encourage safety, encourage the social distancing, but I think that we should still hold it. I don’t think we should take away the agency. I think people want it. Most of the people I have had call me are very much wanting to hold Peach Days,” she said. “The more that you have that control on people, the bigger problems I see coming from saying, ‘You can or can’t do this or that.'”
Hurricane resident and former city councilman Kevin Thomas, also in favor of Peach Days, said he didn’t know where to begin.
“Unfortunately, my 19-year-old son was one of the statistics, dying of COVID, supposedly, a week and a half ago,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if it was COVID, he didn’t have a single symptom.”
He said he finds it impossible to know the truth about COVID-19 and worries about what could happen to individual freedom if citizens don’t stand up against canceling events like Peach Days.
“If one life is too many, guess how many lives will die when someone else is in charge of our freedom? When they have to kill us to keep us in compliance,” he said. “That’s too many lives.”
Thomas went on to say that he felt freedom was more important than his life.
“I’d rather die with the coronavirus than to do nothing to stop the loss of our freedoms,” he said.
In an email to St. George News, Thomas said his son died from Acute Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. But because he also tested positive for the virus, COVID-19 also had to be included on his death certificate.
He said on his son’s death certificate, COVID-19 was listed as a possible contributing factor.
“But because it was on his death certificate, I’m sure they counted it as a COVID-19 death,” he said in the email.
Mike Butler, a resident of Hurricane since 1994, was the only meeting attendee who spoke in favor of canceling Peach Days. He said he and his wife love Peach Days, but he was concerned with how social distancing and sanitizing would be maintained. He also mentioned several other communities that are postponing celebrations, such as the Shakespeare Festival.
“We can’t control what others do. We can’t control how others act. But we can control what we do. And I am concerned thinking of the possibility of having 20 to 30,000 people on a city block over whatever period of time,” he said. “There’s not enough sanitizers, not enough people cleaning tables and chairs. There’s not enough space for people to be safe. This virus wins.”
Shelley Goodfellow said she didn’t think it was appropriate for the City Council to make a decision on canceling an event that is still two months away and that places where the virus was spiking two months ago “are now at an all-time low.”
“We elected you guys not to protect our health but to protect our freedom,” she said, speaking directly to the council.
“At a time when citizens are deprived of sociality, economic and financial difficulty and division and confinement, I cannot think of a time that an event like Peach Days is more needed in the history of all Peach Days,” she said, adding that during pioneer times it was during difficult times that “they held events for the sole purpose to lift the spirits of the suffering.”
Council member Nanette Billings spoke passionately, sharing the sentiment of those who spoke in favor of moving forward with Peach Days while the rest of the council members addressed hesitation and worry about the liability of holding Peach Days.
“Because I said none of us are making it out of here alive, nobody’s dying to get back here either, so it’s important for us to live — to really live. And to act like we’re alive instead of so fearful,” Billings said. “We’re letting fear run our lives.”
Joseph Prete, a council member, said there are persuasive arguments on the other side. He said he wants Peach Days, but, as an attorney, he is concerned with liability.
“If we get 20,000 people in a two-block radius and lineups of 20 people or more … I think no amount of handwashing and social distancing encouragements is going to be sufficient to eliminate or reduce the risk to not have COVID-19 repercussions afterwards,” Prete said. “What happens when that occurs, when people get sick? And then they sue the city, and then the city has to pay $40 million in settlement to pay off a lawsuit and all of our taxes go. Not to mention the harm or the death that could come from COVID cases.”
Fay Reber, the city attorney also expressed his concern about legal liability. He said the city has a unique responsibility to represent all citizens and that they are in no way trying to impede on the freedoms of people going out to have things like a picnic or a party, he said.
“As a city, there’s a concern about putting our stamp of approval on an event that possibly could be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the city of Hurricane,” Reber said.
There was some discussion about possibly moving the location of Peach Days to the fairgrounds.
Ultimately, the City Council decided to postpone the decision until July 16. They have asked the Peach Days Committee to put together recommendations to provide a detailed plan that will mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 should the celebration be held.
Update July 6, 7:55 p.m. Additional information was added after St. George News received an email from Thomas about the cause of his son’s death.
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