A fellow aviation journalist wrote yesterday in his column that he was going to Sun ’n Fun. Most years, that’s not remotely newsworthy. Of course he’d be going. We’d all be going. This year, what with the pandemic still raging while many states, including Florida, easing or eliminating restrictions, it’s not an easy call to make.
Last year the emerging pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Sun ’n Fun, which takes place in the spring in Lakeland, Florida. There had been only a few cases reported in the entire state of Florida, but it was already well known how bad this thing could be. Eventually, the organizers of the spring fly-in made the right call and (very reluctantly) shut it all down.
This year, they’re going ahead with it. That is absolutely their legal right, at least in the state of Florida. But in 2021, large public events are still a really bad idea. Just look at how cautious pro and big amateur sports are being. The NCAA Men’s and the separate but equal (<<<joke) Women’s tournaments are down to the final six teams. To help reduce risk, the NCAA had all of the games for each of the 64-team brackets played in front of largely empty stands at a single site. It was smart. Large gatherings of any kind are risky to the people who attend and subsequently to the communities those people return to after the big game or race or rally or concert. It’s science. That’s how this virus spreads.
I’ll leave pandemic doubters to their own devices. This thing is real and deadly. Those are just the facts. And while it’s tempting to say that we’re emerging from the pandemic and we’re on the other side of it, that’s clearly not the case, at least not yet. Only around 20% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, and cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. Deaths from COVID-19, which always lag the other indicators for obvious reasons, are currently on the rise again, as well. As you’ve likely seen on TV (or possibly in person), events in Spring Break hot spots were packed with maskless (mostly) young people doing what young people do, activities that are never discussed in the same sentence as the words “social distancing.” New variants of COVID are on the rise, as well, and experts say that all three of them appear to be more contagious than the original strain.
On the plus side, all three coronavirus vaccines in use in the United States are doing their job. Not only that, but both of the two-dose vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, are working exceptionally well, this according to statistics from the CDC released just yesterday. So, if you’re vaccinated, even halfway there, your protection is robust.
But is that good enough to go to Sun ’n Fun? That’s the question I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the past few days, and I always get an answer. It’s just an answer that’s always the opposite of yesterday’s epiphany, textbook vacillation.
You might think that my reluctance to commit is due to fear. I am afraid. Exceptionally afraid, but not of my getting sick. I’ll be fully vaccinated and almost two weeks out from shot two when I’d be arriving in Lakeland for the show. I’m unlikely to contract the virus, and if I did, statistics say that I wouldn’t get so sick that I’d be hospitalized. In trials, that almost never happened. And not a single soul died. Contrast that with the thousand-plus on average who have died every day in the United States since the pandemic hit. No, what I’m afraid of is other people getting sick and dying.
So let me put down in black and white what nobody else is coming right out and saying: If you’re not vaccinated, especially if you have an underlying risk factor, it’s a terrible idea to go to any large gathering. And while Sun ’n Fun says that it will take all required precautions, and while the State of Florida has no restrictions of any kind, the truth is, holding any large gathering with so much of the population still at risk is still a risky proposition. And it should escape no one’s attention that the prime demographic at Sun ’n Fun, as is true for just about any aviation event, is composed of people who are at very high risk of serious illness or death should they contract the virus. The event will encourage but not require attendees to wear masks, and there will be no vaccination checks. Many of the folks there will doubtless have been vaccinated, but there will be many thousands who have not been.
Plane & Pilot will be at Sun ’n Fun, at least that’s the plan so far. But no one will be required or even encouraged to attend. They will be there because they want to go, and they have been fully vaccinated, I should add. If any one of them or even all of them were to change their mind, even at the last second, I’d support that choice. As with flying, it’s what you do. There’s no shame, ever, in not making the no-go call. I admit that I am conflicted about having a presence there. Not because I fear for their health but because I don’t want anyone to get the idea that we are wholeheartedly behind the event going forward, as it is. But it is going on and we will be there to cover it.
We’re far from the only ones choosing restraint. Companies from Aviat to Zenair are making their difficult calls, too. Many companies are sending a skeleton crew, and Textron Aviation’s exhibit will be largely automated. That I want to see. AOPA, which normally has a cast of thousands at the show, will have a handful of people there this year.
Me? Well, I haven’t yet decided. Strangely enough, getting the vaccine changed everything for me, though not remotely in the way I’d anticipated. If I hadn’t gotten vaccinated it would have been a no-brainer to say, “No thank you.” But today, with my shot card completed and a near-guarantee of safe passage, I find it hard to say, “Yes.” Getting two shots in the arm made me realize that it’s not a question of what’s safe for me but, rather, what’s safe for our community.