Board of Health votes to cancel Ashfield Fall Festival

  • The Ashfield Fall Festival, pictured in 2017. After hearing from community members, the Board of Health voted to cancel this year’s festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 8/27/2021 3:38:56 PM

ASHFIELD — After hearing from community members last week, the Board of Health voted to cancel this year’s Ashfield Fall Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fall Festival Planning Committee Secretary Laura Stravino said that while the committee had intended to proceed as planned with the October event, members began to speak with the Board of Health when concerns about the state of COVID-19 arose.

“We’re just a group of citizen volunteers who aren’t public health experts,” she said. “Our unified opinion as a group was to proceed unless and until it became clear that it wouldn’t be safe to do so. We had agreed based on the research that we did that our town Board of Health would be our authorizing body.”

The Board of Health met on Aug. 17 to discuss the continuation of planning, though the board did not officially vote on the matter until its Aug. 24 meeting, which was held at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

Board of Health Chairwoman Evelyn Resh said board members had given the Fall Festival Planning Committee the go-ahead earlier in the year to begin planning, but had done so with the understanding that they would be prepared to “pull the plug” for health and safety reasons.

“I didn’t (originally) feel comfortable about doing the Fall Festival, but we had started to see improvements and we didn’t have the delta variant at that time,” Resh said. Her extensive background in public health, and work in the realm of infectious diseases, has informed some of her hesitancy to support the Fall Festival’s return.

“Part of what the issue is is what we still don’t know about COVID-19,” Resh said. “We have a lot more information than we had a year ago, but there is still a lot we don’t know, and given that children are not able to be vaccinated yet, and so many children and young families come to the festival, I felt an obligation to take that into consideration.”

Resh noted other reasons why the Fall Festival might go directly against the board’s goal of keeping Ashfield and surrounding communities safe and healthy. According to Resh, the event has no central gate to enforce mask wearing as it is held throughout the town center; Ashfield itself has no mask mandate that can be enforced at this time; and social distancing is not possible during every part of the festival. These aspects, especially when matched with the major growth of the event over the years, could lead to unwelcome public health consequences.

“Many people make the Fall Festival a specific autumnal destination,” she said. “This could be a major super spreader event. It doesn’t seem responsible of me as a public health official to allow that.”

The annual festival typically draws hundreds of attendees and offers arts and crafts exhibits, locally grown and prepared foods, live music and dancing, the Pumpkin Games, children’s activities, and book and tag sales. After celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019, the full event was canceled in 2020 amid the pandemic. Instead, Fall Festival Planning Committee members created an online platform for festival vendors, and looked to return to having an in-person event this year.

Disappointment from all parties has ensued since the Board of Health’s decision, though Stravino said the Fall Festival Planning Committee understands the reasoning behind the board’s vote.

“We’re disappointed and understanding,” Stravino said. “It’s a hard thing, but we’re looking forward to coming back healthy, strong and ready to go in 2022.”

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