The Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted Friday morning, March 13, to cancel the 62nd annual Fort Myers Beach Lions Shrimp Festival. Earlier on Friday, Vice-Mayor Ray Murphy, St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizer, announced that he was cancelling Monday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Both cancellations are due to the COVID-19 virus and references recommendations made by the State of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Board of Health relating to large gatherings.
The vote to withdraw the permit for the Shrimp Festival was unanimous, though Council members Rexann Hosafros and Bruce Butcher initially expressed hesitance. Hosafros said, “I take this very seriously, however, I am a big believer in staying in my lane.” She said she thought it should be the event organizers that made the decision to cancel the event. Butcher commented that he thought it was an individual’s choice to attend the event.
Mayor Cereceda began the discussion by explaining that she spent most of Thursday in discussions with state, county and local public safety representatives. “This has been weighing on me heavily, this current state of affairs. This is one of the busiest weekends of the year, Shrimp Fest.
“I want to assure you that the most important thing I learned yesterday was that at the head, making decisions, there are calm, resolute decision-makers.”
Cereceda asked for unity on council in the decision regarding Shrimp Fest. “My greatest hope is that we speak with one voice this morning.”
Council member Joanne Shamp spoke of the importance of preventing the spread of the virus to control the national and international pandemic.
When Hosafros reiterated her desire to let the Lions Club decide, Cereceda stated that she was in contact with several Lions Club members in the previous 24 hours and assured council members that members of the Lions Club were watching the meeting.
Cereceda explained that while she has three businesses on the island, that is not her deciding factor. “This is about public safety.” She told a story about contacting a friend with Cystic Fibrosis who planned to visit for the Shrimp Fest and told her not to come, then began a list of local residents that she planned to advise to stay home. “And then it hit me, if I have a concern about these individuals, I have a concern about all of our people…the only prudent thing is to cancel this event.”
“I am not one to act out of fear, this is a practical response. If only one person became ill, it would be on our heads,” said Cereceda.
Acknowledging the hit these decisions would bring to local businesses, she urged support for them. “I hope you all will do what you can to patronize local businesses. They will be suffering – owners, servers, and more – It’s our job to take care of them.”
Murphy addressed Hosafros’ concern, “I believe the Lions Club are good people – they know this is the right decision. We’ll get through this together.”
Hosafros suggested waiting a few hours to get input from the Lions Club. Shamp replied, “Our #1 focus is on public safety. We should not defer our responsibility on this. We should not waiver on this.”
With that the council voted 5-0 to withdraw the permit for the 62nd annual Shrimp Festival, effectively cancelling all weekend activities associated with it. The Saturday Parade, Sunday Shrimp Queen Pageant and Shrimp Eating Championship and the weekend’s Expo and Art Fair plus the Lions Shrimp Dinners have all been cancelled.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Murphy explained that he made the decision to cancel Monday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade after a conversation with the Naples Mayor, where their parade had already been cancelled. “It was not a hard decision to make when I found out that the Foundation that runs the Naples Parade had cancelled. If ever there was a time to cancel this event, this is it.”