Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival ushers in crowds, coronavirus concerns

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival ushers in crowds, coronavirus concerns

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival kicked off Thursday, but some people have major concerns with the threat of the coronavirus.

The festival brings in about 40,000 people over four days at Sunshine Grove.

"They are in our Walmart. They are in our grocery stores," said Darcy Ferneau, who is a lifelong resident in Okeechobee.

Ferneau said she has been working the phone the past few days calling the governor's office, Okeechobee County commissioners and her state representatives pushing to have the festival canceled with the growing threat of the virus.

"We don't know where all these people are coming from and we don't know if they've been sick," she said.

Dozens of artists will perform at the festival. Bryce Cooper and Dean Weldon were filling a cooler with ice Thursday afternoon after driving from Orlando.

"You can't worry about something like that when you're going to an event like this," Weldon said. "You just gotta play it out and see how it goes."

This week, the Ultra Music Festival in Miami was canceled over coronavirus concerns.

Okeechobee County said it takes the lead from the Florida Department of Health, and although there was discussion, it was decided the show will go on.

"We have a complete medical facility that has been set up there with a doctor and his staff, so if anybody even sniffles, bam, right to the tent," Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said.

Culpepper also said the demographics between Miami and Okeechobee are different, and he believes everyone will be safe.

"When you start closing everything down, that adds to the panic," Culpepper said.

The commissioner added that the festival brings in millions to the local economy and a lot of that money is donated to local charities.

In response to the backlash, the festival released the following statement:

"The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival (OMF) is proceeding as planned, with many festival goers already on site and enjoying OMF 2020. Numerous actions are being taken regarding hygiene awareness, and for everyone's convenience we have increased our number of hand-washing stations and placed more hand sanitizer dispensers at all bathroom areas. We have also added additional signage and messaging to help direct people to these stations and reinforce basic health and hygiene practices. We look forward to sharing another amazing weekend with our Okeechobeeings at Sunshine Grove this weekend."

Scripps Only Content 2020