Belton’s annual weeklong Fourth of July Celebration draws tens of thousands of people. The long-running event — for now — is still planned to go on despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are on until we are not — until the governor says we’re not,” said Randy Pittenger, president of the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the annual event. “At this point, all indicators say we should be fine. We are moving forward with all of our plans promoting our events expecting everything to be held.”
The star-spangled jamboree is planned to start June 27 and end July 4. The celebration includes a parade through downtown Belton that draws an estimated 35,000 people; the three-night Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo; and other smaller festivities.
“The Fourth of July parade in Belton is an institution, but public safety has to be the highest consideration. There is not a need to rush a decision,” Belton spokesman Paul Romer said. “As COVID-19 has taught the world, a lot can change in just a few weeks. The parade and other festivities are clearly threatened by COVID-19, but any decision about cancellations will be made as late as possible.”
Pittenger pointed to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order allowing additional business and some recreational activities to reopen as an encouraging sign.
“The governor’s order yesterday specifically mentioned rodeo, although at a pretty low capacity but that’s to start now. That’s good news. We’re moving in the right direction,” the chamber president told the Telegram. “All the indicators are positive. In our planning, the assumption is that outdoor events are much more likely (to happen) than indoor events.”
July 4 is still more than a month and a half away. Pittenger acknowledged a lot can change during that time. One thing that is almost certain, though, is Abbott announcing more changes to his COVID-19-related executive orders.
“Really in the next couple of weeks I think we’ll know more. We have been aiming for getting through May and see where we are at the end of May — a month out is a good marker,” Pittenger said. “We don’t usually start rodeo ticket sales until the first of June anyway and most registrations don’t come in until then.”
Although the Belton Area Chamber is confident its July Fourth events will go on, Pittenger said they have plans to delay, if needed.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to have the rodeo. If not, we have contingency plans that have been in process for some time for postponing events,” he said.
If the events go on, officials will stress social distancing, wearing a mask and keeping up with hand washing. Hand sanitizer and washing stations are planned to be set up during the events.
Pittenger said those guidelines, though, are simply suggestions. Abbott and other state officials have removed local governments’ authority to enforce those recommendations.
Other communities, such as Waco, have canceled their July Fourth events.
“Contrary to many other communities that are canceling events out through the summer, we are not doing that,” Pittenger said. “We have not canceled anything. We are moving forward.”