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A transparent discussion on activity decisions for Emporia Main Street moving forward

Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | August 20, 2021

We are aware that several local events are either being postponed or cancelled due to COVID. Every event is different, and various groups or organizations have different risk thresholds that they use to determine how to proceed with activities. Emporia Main Street understands that these event decisions are difficult, and every organization or business should do what they feel is right. No judgements here. We are not public health officials, virologists, or infectious disease experts. Emporia Main Street consults experts whenever possible, but we are not here to make anything approximating a public health judgement.
Emporia Main Street understands that making event determinations shouldn’t be a flippant process. In an effort to remain completely transparent concerning how we judge the viability of events in a pandemic, we have developed a matrix that we walk through to determine what can/should be done. Each criterion receives an independent score from zero to ten, and a scoring baseline is set to flag events of significant concern. Our board of directors and select staff/volunteers are polled to determine how they would score activities. The scoring process makes sure we are all speaking the same language when it comes to risk assessment, and that discussions can be more thoughtful and targeted to get more done in a shorter time period (people are busy).
Again, different groups will have different criteria for their own activities. We simply felt that it was important to share our thought processes, and not simply share resulting decisions. The following is our decision scoring matrix for events and activities during COVID spike time periods:
COVID Events Decision Making Matrix for Emporia Main Street

  • Venue/Environment
  • We know that outdoor events are generally safer than indoor events.  If we can space out elements of activities, we can increase social distancing and allow for a safer environment. 
  • Presence of Alcohol 
  • This is a more of a “yes” or “no” event question.  The presence of alcohol can negate most mask usage, increase close contact socialization, and impair decision making.  During spikes in a pandemic, it can add another layer of risk. 
  • Attendee Movement 
  • Are attendees standing in one location for a significant period, or are they moving around?  Are amenities designed to attract people to singular locations (like a climbing wall or stage), or are they more distributed (like vendor booths)? 
  • Consumer Demographics (vaccinations and safety among the target group
  • Is the target demographic for the event at substantial risk for COVID transmission due to their general vaccination status?  Is the target demographic likely to engage in safety mitigation (like masks)? 
  • Monetary ROI for the organization 
  • How much money does the event in question bring in for Emporia Main Street?  Can we reasonably replace the funds through other means? 
  • Monetary ROI for area businesses 
  • How much do local businesses/organizations depend on the event to generate income? 
  • Community Good 
  • Some events and activities allow for community integration, generate good will, or show the community in a decidedly positive light that is hard to quantify. 
  • Organizational experience with the individual event 
  • Is this year one for an event, or year twenty?  Do we have significant enough experience with the activity to determine how the general public and vendors will respond to changes or safety protocols? 
  • Staffing requirements 
  • How labor intensive is the event for Main Street staff and/volunteers?  Is the labor required consistent with a normal year, or are there additional requirements as a function of COVID?  Can we organizationally handle the labor requirements? 
  • Enforceable safety requirements for vendors and attendees 
  • Are we willing to require masks?  Can we require all attendees to provide proof of vaccination as a condition of entry? Are safety requirements reasonably enforceable?  Are safety requirements consistent with local health department recommendations? 

Obviously we will also look at trending information with local cases of COVID, but each of the standards listed above are scored zero to ten, and there are ten criterion, so we have a total of 100 points per event.
What does this look like in practice? In practice we are announcing the cancellation of The Taste event scheduled for September 25th. This traditionally indoor event has alcohol present and entertainment (The Steve Kile Band is fantastic) that people hover around. If we instituted additional safety protocols within the expansive space, there are concerns that we wouldn’t have enough labor to effectively monitor the area to force adherence to COVID protocols. If we moved the event outdoors to add more space, labor requirements would increase substantially and the presence of alcohol and static location entertainment would compound risks. We felt pretty good about the demographics of attendees falling into traditionally higher percentage vaccination groups. For monetary considerations, our budget will take a hit. Because the event is designed to funnel people to local restaurants before the event, and local night spots after the event, local businesses will also potentially take a monetary hit. Highlighting local businesses and Kansas made products also has a “community good” element that we lose out on by not holding The Taste. In short, this wasn’t an easy decision.
From a non-cancellation standpoint, we are moving forward with both the Welcome Back Block Party (we will hold this event on August 23rd) and we will hold the Great American Market on September 11th. Both of these events are outdoors. We added additional spacing between vendors, and have additional hygiene protocols in place. Both events produce solid motion through the event spaces, there is no alcohol at either event, and there is no type of entertainment or amenity that would encourage people to stand in one place for an extended period. One event (the Welcome Back Block Party) has a demographic group that is generally vaccinated at a lower percentage rate than the general population, but we will have a vaccine clinic at the event to encourage inoculation. Emporia Main Street loses money on the Welcome Back Block Party, but the Great American Market is a fundraiser. Both events make money for local businesses (in very different ways), and both events have tremendous “community good” elements. Both events are labor intensive, but we have staff and volunteers in sufficient numbers to assist with event elements. Within our amenities provided and rotating event assessments, we believe we can hold both events with lower levels of risk. Again, we are holding the Welcome Back Block Party and the Great American Market. Neither event is cancelled.
That’s how Main Street is viewing activities. Different businesses, individuals, and organizations set their own standards for risk in events. We encourage you as an individual to take the steps necessary to help reduce COVID infections so we can get to a closer approximation of normal sometime soon.

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.