Viewers line the Duval Street sidewalk for the 2019 Fantasy Fest parade. Crowd concerns due to the coronavirus prompted city officials and festival organizers to cancel this year’s events. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

Key West officials have cleared the island’s social calendar through October, making the difficult decision to cancel all events requiring a city-issued special event permit.

Fantasy Fest organizers announced on July 9 the cancellation of this year’s festival, originally scheduled for Oct. 17-24. As the coronavirus spreads unchecked through South Florida, a host of other events also fell victim to the virus, although fishing tournaments seem to be weathering the storm, given participants’ ability to spread out. 

“Right now, we’ve worked our way through the calendar up to Fantasy Fest, and then we obviously have powerboat races scheduled for two weeks later in November,” Key West city manager Greg Veliz told Keys Weekly on July 14. “Halloween trick-or-treating has not been discussed at all yet.” 

Veliz meets this week with producers of the Key West Offshore Racing World Championships to discuss the powerboat event that’s headquartered at the city-owned Truman Waterfront. 

“I’m not sure how you can have boat races without spectators, but we’ll talk this week,” Veliz said.

Prior to the powerboats is the popular Key West Songwriters Festival Oct. 7-11, which canceled its large street concert, but as of now will still hold smaller events at privately owned venues, said festival founder and president, Charlie Bauer. 

Bauer said his team will be watching what happens with the virus and could still make further changes to protect the public health.

Hemingway Days, scheduled for this month, has moved online, along with Mel Fisher Days. The Key West Half Marathon is using an app to digitize its Key West race courses and enable runners to participate from their own hometown. The annual Headdress Ball, which takes place during Fantasy Fest, may be postponed rather than canceled, Veliz said.

“We’re trying to make educated decisions three months out, when things are changing every three hours,” he said, acknowledging that other crowded events can’t necessarily be canceled.

“We’re going to have Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but what that will look like, I have no idea,” Veliz said, referring to the huge New Year’s Eve crowds that pack various downtown locations.

The city obviously can’t cancel a day such as New Year’s Eve, Veliz said. 

“I do hold out hope for the Christmas parade, in case things take a turn for the better by December,” he said. “We’d obviously love to be able to do it for the kids and the community, but time will dictate that.”

The pool at Dante’s restaurant is packed the week of Fantasy Fest in October 2019. COVID-19 forced the closure of this year’s festival. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly
The Masquerade March is one of the most popular — and crowded — Fantasy Fest events, which all have been canceled this year. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly
Tens of thousands of people fill the streets of Key West on New Year’s Eve 2019. City officials can’t cancel Dec. 31, but are concerned about the crowd size and the future of the coronavirus. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

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