RENO (AP) – Burning Man’s cancellation for the second year has met with mixed reactions in northern Nevada. Some companies and tourism officials say they will miss out on the festival-goers’ economic boom, but health officials are glad they will not do anything to increase the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
The counterculture festival in the Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles north of Reno, typically attracts nearly 80,000 people, who spend an estimated $ 63 million in Nevada.
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Officials at Reno-Tahoe International Airport were among those hoping the event would return in late August after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic.
“Let’s be honest, our world needs Burning Man now. If you want to celebrate that a pandemic breaks out, Burning Man is perfect, ”said airport spokesman Brian Kulpin.
“We missed her last year and we will miss her again this year,” he told the Reno Gazette Journal.
Health officials’ concerns were based in part on the fact that the event draws people from around the world to locations with a wide variety of COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates, and virus variants.
“I’m sure it was a tough decision to cancel Burning Man this year, but I think the right call was made in terms of public safety and reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission” said Kevin Dick, district health officer for Washoe County.
According to Dick, health officials are seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 in a number of countries, “in areas where highly contagious COVID-19 variants are of concern and where vaccination rates are low”.
Janet Davis, chairwoman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, shared these concerns as most of the burners traverse the tribe’s reservation to get to the Playa Desert.
“We are trying to protect our people and that influx of people would be a risk to our tribe,” said Davis.
Davis said that after speaking with Burning Man organizers earlier this year, she felt confident that the event was moving forward. She believes the recent cuts in vaccination rates and the unknowns involving participants from abroad likely led to the cancellation.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” said Davis, finding tribal businesses will miss out on the seasonal surge in sales.
Many Reno companies – from hardware stores to grocery stores – see their best sales reports in August, largely due to Burning Man, but most local businesses seem to get the decision.
Lisa Martin runs the Melting Pot World Emporium, a eclectic midtown boutique that caters to Burners’ needs for things that are hazy and colorful.
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For several years now, the shop has not relied on Brenner anyway, as many of them shop online.
“We have more home decor and incense and lots of sage,” said Martin.
Despite the cancellation of the official event, at least one community, Gerlach, plans to welcome Burners en masse.
About 3,000 to 5,000 distillers gathered on Black Rock Desert Playa last year to celebrate. They brought a number of art installations, art cars, and even some makeshift representations of the “man”. Some graciously called the gathering “Not Burning Man”.
Lacey Holle, who owns Bruno’s Country Club in Gerlach, said she was hoping for the same this year.
“Our Burning Man season last year lasted until October, people just kept coming,” said Holle.
Gerlach, a town of around 100 residents on the edge of Playa, is the last stop for amenities, even if limited. The city’s few businesses make the most of their annual income from the month before Burning Man and the month after.
While last year couldn’t keep up with the revenue from the actual event, the unofficial distillers at least provided some financial cushion.
Last year Burning Man organizers advised against any gathering in the desert to some extent. But this year they admitted that many would go to Playa for a party. They reminded people that they had to be self-sufficient.
Officials from the Bureau of Land Management, which normally oversees Burning Man, also said they had no special plans on site for the week of the now-canceled event. Several police officers patrolled the area last year, mainly to prevent people from burning structures.
Back in Reno, the people at the airport have to wait another year for the colorfully dressed festival goers to parade, who usually pique their curiosity.
Kulpin said he enjoyed watching other travelers react.
“A couple of times I’ve seen someone wearing a dark blue or black suit and they see someone coming back from dust-covered playa,” he said. “You can see the fear in their eyes, ‘Oh man, I hope I’m not sitting next to this person.'”
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