A ban on large gatherings in Sonoma County is dealing another heavy blow to the struggling events industry

A ban on large gatherings in Sonoma County is dealing another heavy blow to the struggling events industry

Just as North Bay’s juvenile industry began to regain its footing, one county hit the brakes again.

As of today, Sonoma County has banned indoor gatherings of more than 50 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people for 30 days in the wake of a spike in COVID-19 cases across the county, driven by a rapidly spreading omicron variant.

“It’s kind of frustrating to see that come and be the only county to do so so far,” said Brian Ferrell, business director at So Eventful, a Healdsburg-based events company that has been in business since 2008 that organizes both social and corporate events. “Also, since we’ve moved away from the tiering system, where there was at least some sort of scale and goals, it now appears to be only at the discretion of the county health advisor.”

Ferrell said that while the immediate impact of So Eventful is minimal, with no events scheduled in the next 30 days that need to be canceled, delegating quickly could lead to a loss of new business.

“We receive leads almost daily,” he said. “And with not many of our customers from the area, they might catch a cold as well. Unfortunately, when they come to us with questions, we don’t have any clear answers. Again, with no scale, it’s just ‘OK, we’ve been doing this for 30 days.'”

Ferrell also noted a number of exceptions to the rule, “which makes it even more confusing and frustrating.”

Under the mandate, the definition of “large gathering” excludes places of worship, courts “or any place open to public circulation as part of its normal operations such as shopping malls, stores, restaurants/food facilities, and museums.”

The request from Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Massi states that over the past two weeks, the county’s rate of coronavirus cases has increased nearly 400%, and is expected to continue rising throughout the month. Half of the cases with known source of infection were due to clusters, the majority of which were large clusters, defined as more than 12 people.

Test positivity is also the highest during the pandemic, at 16.5%, compared to the previous high of 9.7% during the pandemic, Massey said.

For Sandy Lucchesi, the sole owner since 2008 of A Sense of Wine in Healdsburg, the 30-day rule is another heartbreak for the nearly two-year epidemic. Lucchesi is an international wine consultant and certified sommelier that offers interactive, educational, and customized wine programs to industry and corporate clients.

“Every time it’s like starting from scratch again, and it takes a lot longer to try (rebuild) trust and make sure people follow protocols and feel safe and comfortable,” Luccese said.

While events booked for her over the next 30 days are for fewer than 50 people, Lucchesi’s pre-pandemic work typically has between 50 and 200 attendees. She was also a consultant to Norwegian Cruise Lines, where she conducted training and developed other wine programs on their ships—a business that immediately went down two years ago.

In September, during the height of the COVID-19 delta wave, Lucchesi said it had to cancel 17 events.

But she is optimistic.

“The cool part is when we got this little break between Delta and Omicron, people were really excited to come back in person,” Lucchesi said. “The atmosphere and the liveliness of the events were very exciting. People were in a good mood, and were very happy to go out and walk around and see each other.”

Meanwhile, the larger Sonoma County venues took swift action after the mandate was announced.

The Green Music Center at Sonoma State University has canceled two shows during its season that fall into a 30-day order. The New Century Chamber Orchestra was scheduled for January 21, and Alphabet Rockers was due to perform on February 5, according to Andy Shepherd, senior director of marketing and communications.

“Hopefully we can get them back soon,” Shepherd said.

Ticket holders can get a refund, donate the ticket amount or apply it to a gift card, he said.

Shepherd said the SSU facility can hold 1,400 people indoors and 4,500 outdoors. He noted that it was early August when performances resumed, both indoors and outdoors since it was summer.

The pandemic has proven to be an “evolving situation,” in Shepherd’s words.

“I don’t know that we will get used to canceling shows,” he said. “It’s always unfortunate.”

For the 1,600-seat Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, the 30-day order will affect 10 major events scheduled through February 11, according to Rick Nowlin, president and CEO.

“We will immediately begin deferring and rescheduling, or canceling, when there is no other alternative,” Nolen told The Press Democrat in a statement.

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