The country’s largest food festival has walked back its plan to require that guests show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend.
The organizers of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival changed the language in their COVID-19 guidelines this week to say that guests, staff and Florida International students working the May festival need only fill out a digital health screening, attesting they have one or the other.
The change came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order April 2 barring any business that accepts public dollars from requiring proof of vaccinations from guests. FIU’s hospitality school is a beneficiary of the festival.
The festival, which expects to draw 20,000 people to South Florida from May 20-23, had started selling tickets March 22 with the requirement that guests show a negative coronavirus test less than 3 days old or proof of vaccination before attending any event. A festival spokesman said the original language also stated they could fill out an online health screening, swearing to either. After the governor’s order and meeting with its legal team, festival organizers eliminated the option to show proof.
DeSantis’ order undermined the South Beach festival’s original plan as it seeks to put on the country’s first major food festival since the coronavirus outbreak more than a year ago. The governor said asking for proof of vaccinations would “reduce individual freedom.” His order does not prevent businesses such as restaurants and retail stores from using other screening protocols recommended by state and federal offices.
Immediately after the governor’s executive order, festival founder Lee Schrager told the Miami Herald he still felt the festival was on solid ground by requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or, alternatively, vaccination proof. But the festival’s lawyers started reviewing its ticket policy.
The festival, which normally draws more than 60,000 guests to South Florida, still has plans to limit coronavirus exposure.
It will operate at less than half capacity at all of its events — slashing its total attendance to about a third. It has cut its events from 110 to 68 and Schrager had said the event expects to lose $700,000 this year.
The event still will enforce a series of protocols including symptom and temperature checks. It will require guests to wear masks whenever they are not eating. And it will provide masks if the one a guest brings does not meet its standard. The full guidelines are available at sobewff.org/covid-guidelines.