La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow and El Segundo Vice Presidente David Bolton. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

UPDATE 5:45 p.m.: At 5:12 p.m., Old Spanish Days’ El Segundo Vice Presidente David Bolton sent an email that briefly stated that La Fiesta Pequeña, set for Wednesday evening on the steps of the Old Mission, was canceled “to any public viewing.” Bolton noted the Noches de Ronda, or nightly dances at the courthouse, were also canceled. Check here for the latest updates.

The original story follows.

Before the Old Spanish Days executive committee stood at the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission this Tuesday to make a hastily scheduled announcement, the community waited with uncertainty.

The Fiesta Mercado at De la Guerra was scrapped just a week ago, and the festivities have faced some vocal opposition, questioning whether large public gatherings would be safe for the city during the recent spike in COVID cases. But for now, and unless the county health officials declare otherwise, Fiesta 2021 is still happening as scheduled — albeit with safety protocols in place.

“We’re continuing our Fiesta spirit here in Santa Barbara,” said La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow of this year’s Old Spanish Days during today’s media conference. “We’ll just do everything that we can. Everybody should stay safe and enjoy Fiesta.”

With the county recommending masks in public places, the organizers are also encouraging masks regardless of vaccination status. Social distancing is also being encouraged in all public settings to curb the spread of COVID and prevent any outbreak in the community. 

“The health and safety of our community is of the utmost importance to Old Spanish Days,” Petlow said. “We’ve been in contact with the county health department; safety protocols are in place.”

The scaled-back schedule of activities this year marks the return of Fiesta after in-person events were completely canceled last year during the height of the pandemic. The annual parade was not revived for 2021 out of abundance of caution, and with Santa Barbara recording its largest rate of COVID cases since February, the decision to cancel the De la Guerra Mercado was made after careful consideration at the volume of people that would be in and out of the plaza during the duration of the events.

“The spike is alarming,” Petlow said. “It’s what made us cancel Mercado.”

Even with the open-air Mercado being canceled, the officials felt that the remaining events would be safe to proceed as long as these precautions were in place. Celebración de los Dignatarios and Noches de Ronda are going ahead as planned, and Dr. Henning Ansorg and the county health department approve of protocols.

“The county likes the plan in place,“ said El Segundo Vice Presidente David Bolton. He encouraged those who are not feeling well to stay home, and said the officials will be paying close attention to the health department for any changes in the next few days.

The annual event is set to start Wednesday, August 4, with Fiesta Pequeña at Santa Barbara Mission, and though festivities were scaled down, Petlow says that local dance companies are still holding public shows at La Cumbre Plaza and Paseo Nuevo. Some of the vendors who missed out on Fiesta Mercado will be able to set up on the beach during the weekend’s Fiesta Arts and Crafts Show.

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