Manatee Festival 04.JPG

The 2021 Manatee Festival, which was already being scaled down in size due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, is being delayed until late March because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Rising cases of the novel coronavirus have forced the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce to pump the brakes on the 2021 Florida Manatee Festival, which was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16 and 17, and reschedule the annual event for March 27 and 28, the last weekend of manatee season, according to Josh Wooten, the executive director for the Chamber.

“The COVID benchmarks that we had offered to city council upon approval of our festival permit earlier this month as our ‘make or break’ point are unlikely to be met,” Wooten wrote to Chamber board members Tuesday, Dec. 29, announcing the decision to postpone the event. “Therefore, in the abundance of caution, we are proceeding to the new date. We anticipate being able to create a larger and greater experience for our community at that time.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that we could not move forward with our traditional January weekend, but we look forward to producing another first class festival in March.”

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

In its last meeting prior to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Crystal River City Council members gave the OK to have the annual Manatee Festival as planned in their downtown, but backup plans were put into place if COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surge.

The Chamber had until Dec. 31 to either continue as scheduled or postpone until March 27 and 28. That was dependent on virus transmission rates and hospital cases.

Wooten told the Crystal River Council that the 2021 Manatee Festival will have 40% fewer vendors and attendees, and sanitization stations will be abundant. Advertising will also be published locally, he added.

“I know there’s risks involved with everything,” he said. “We want to give this community something. ... We will do the responsible thing if you give us this opportunity.”

Council voted after Ernesto “Tito” Rubio, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Citrus County, said the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreased and hospitalizations are stabilizing. 

As of Monday, Dec. 28, 6,467 COVID-19 cases have been documented in Citrus County. COVID-19 hospitalizations were at 504, and the death count was 260.

Citrus Memorial Hospital began administering the county's first batch of the Moderna vaccine Thursday, Dec. 24, to its frontline medical staff.

FDOH officials are planning to disperse vaccines to first responders and people older than 65.