ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Organizers say it’s “full speed ahead” as they plan for this year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hosted by New Mexico’s largest city, the annual event usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and hot air ballooning teams from around the world for nine days in early October. Last year’s gathering generated an estimated $186 million in economic benefits for the Albuquerque area and $6.5 million in tax revenues for the state.
Sam Parks, the fiesta’s director of operations, said in a video update that officials are considering a few options and are hopeful they can find a way to let spectators through the gates in a safe way. But he also acknowledged that the plans have to be flexible as state officials have said it’s unlikely they will permit large gatherings anytime soon.
“It is still too early to tell whether those gathering limitations will be implemented in October because we’re learning more about how this virus is spread on a daily basis,” he said. “So right now we’re exploring all of our options and keeping our hopes up that we’ll be able to have balloon fiesta in October.”
The options range from having a fiesta like in past years where spectators get to mingle on the launch field as hundreds of balloons are unpacked, inflated and launched to something that would involve a livestream of balloons launching but no spectators on the grounds.
In a monthly newsletter put out Friday, the fiesta encouraged people to still plan for the mass ascensions that the fiesta is known for.
Parks said organizers had already hit internal benchmarks for this year’s fiesta, having sold a lot of tickets before the outbreak and attracting a full slate of pilots for the fiesta and the annual cross-country gas balloon race that launches that week.
New Mexico health officials have said that the pace of infections in the state has been below the peak. The state has close to 7,500 confirmed cases, with about 350 deaths. More than half of the cases have originated in McKinley and San Juan counties, in the northwestern corner of the state.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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