Broadway Street is filled with parade-goers during Fiesta in April 2019.
Broadway Street is filled with parade-goers during Fiesta in April 2019. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Fiesta San Antonio Commission has engaged the services of Dr. Martin “Marty” Makary, a public health policy expert, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a prominent public figure who has spoken frequently on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fiesta Commission is looking ahead to a 2021 events schedule rife with uncertainty over whether large-scale public gatherings might be safely held, and if so, when and with what safety measures in place.

Makary, who has also assisted H-E-B with its COVID-19 safety protocols, will help guide planning for the more than 100 participating member organizations that sponsor Fiesta events, said Baltazar “Walter” Serna, Fiesta Commission president.

“We hired him to help us look for a path forward,” Serna said, acknowledging the many challenges faced by Fiesta organizers since its initial postponement last March, then the July cancellation of its reduced-scale festival scheduled for November.

The Fiesta Commission announced the hire of Makary in part because it didn’t want to keep the community guessing, Serna said, as to the fate of the festival currently planned for April 15-25.

Since those dates were announced in July amid a rise in coronavirus cases – the city reported 2,202 cases, a one-day high to that point, on July 19 – San Antonio has experienced a winter surge in cases, with more than 3,000 cases reported Jan. 10 following the commission’s Jan. 8 announcement.

Makary is quoted in the announcement as saying, “Fiesta is an important community tradition. The safety of attendees, volunteers, and staff [is] an important prerequisite.”

Serna said community safety is “first and foremost” among considerations of how to move forward with planning. “That’s why we went through this extraordinary step of hiring our own expert to guide us through this,” he said.

An added benefit of hiring a public health expert to help with planning takes pressure off of city officials who would otherwise be responsible for establishing safety protocols, Serna said. “They’ve got a lot of things going on right now.”

While uncertainty remains, Serna said he and the commission are determined to explore possibilities for 2021 events, and “April is still in play” to keep with the festival’s regular annual time frame.

The bottom line is “we don’t want to not do Fiesta,” he said, in part to help the many nonprofit organizations who would normally benefit from fundraising surrounding the events.

“It’s been a tough road for a lot of these nonprofits who support a lot of people in the community and, frankly, need to be able to survive past this year,” Serna said. “And so we’re doing our best to find the safest way to put on Fiesta,” while keeping an eye on the spread of the virus.

The development of COVID-19 vaccines is one bright spot on the pandemic horizon. “Vaccines are going to be distributed, and lots of people are going to get vaccinated,” Serna said, citing President-elect Joe Biden’s focus on assuring that 100 million people are vaccinated within his first 100 days in office. “If he can just deliver on that, that’s huge,” Serna said.

Conditions also depend on how the community responds to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and City leaders on continued use of face coverings, social distancing, and widespread vaccination.

“We’re trying to control the virus,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with how well our community does.”

Serna said the commission would release further details on Fiesta’s 2021 plans in the coming weeks.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...