For more than a year, the COVID pandemic has turned the trappings of typical life on and off like a light switch.
This Sunday was meant to be Downtown Raleigh’s first food truck rodeo in more than a year. Now it’s off, canceled by the latest surge in COVID cases, organizers said.
“We felt that the recent surge in delta variant changed the rules to the game enough to justify waiting until the next event date,” said Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo organizer Guy Caprioli.
There are two more food truck rodeos scheduled for 2021 in Raleigh. The next will be held Sept. 26, followed by Nov. 7.
In a Facebook post, organizers listed some of the reasons they didn’t feel like the event could move forward, despite being held outdoors. They said those issues include contagious nature of the Delta Variant, slower-than-expected vaccination rates and low mask wearing locally.
For years, food truck rodeos have been popular summertime festivals in the Triangle, attracting thousands of diners and dozens of food vendors, showcasing the diversity of the local food scene. The pandemic largely paused that.
Food trucks still popped up here and there, including in neighborhood cul-de-sacs, but rodeos, and the large crowds they often attract, were on an indefinite hiatus.
In January, the Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo scheduled tentative dates for 2021 rodeos, beginning with Aug. 1. As vaccine became widely available in North Carolina, that date seemed attainable, with COVID cases low through the spring and early summer.
But the recent spike in positive cases and hospitalizations led Caprioli to reconsider this weekend’s event, he said. Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,031 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number since early May, The News & Observer reported. Meanwhile, the percentage of people testing positive has risen to 10.4%; health officials say 5% or lower is the target.
Caprioli announced the cancellation on July 21, waiting, he said, until the data was clear. Unlike thunderstorms, COVID posed a trickier challenge than a weather forecast.
“There have been times when the Food Truck Rodeo was canceled due to a major thunderstorm with high winds coming through, only to have it turn out to be a beautiful day,” Caprioi said in an email. “We felt that the recent surge in delta variant changed the rules to the game enough to justify waiting until the next event date.”
Large gatherings resuming
The cancellation comes as many large gatherings are beginning to come back, such as outdoor concerts at Red Hat Amphitheater and sold-out Durham Bulls games.
In canceling the food truck rodeo, Caprioli pointed to a super-spreader event tied to the Provincetown, Mass July 4th celebration. The Cape Cod Times reports it has led to more than 500 positive cases, which public health officials there linked to the more contagious delta variant.
“We were closely watching the updates from the Provincetown/Cap Cod Delta Cluster outbreak following their July 4th celebrations,” Caprioli said in an email. “They had similar mask mandates to what we see. They also had some of the highest vaccination rates in the country.”
In Wake County, 61% of the population has received one dose of the vaccine and 58% have received two doses, according to state data.
The next food truck rodeo scheduled in the Triangle is Sept. 5 in Durham as a Labor Day celebration. This will also be Durham’s first rodeo in more than a year.
Organizers said they still plan to hold the event, but are keeping an eye on North Carolina’s current COVID situation.
“We are still planning to hold our event on Sept. 5,” said Erin Kauffman, executive director of Durham’s Central Park in an email. “However, we are closely monitoring the situation and will make our final decision around Aug. 25.”