Matt Gaetz complains about COVID protocols at 30A Songwriter’s Festival

SANTA ROSA BEACH – Congressman Matt Gaetz wrote a letter to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis informing him of a “flagrant violation” in Walton County of an executive order issued intended to prevent businesses or government entities to require vaccine passports.

The County Cultural Arts Alliance, organizer of the popular 30A Songwriters Festival, found itself in Gaetz’s sights when it issued safety protocols requiring event attendees to present proof of a negative test or full vaccination check.

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The music festival, which attracts thousands of people, is slated to start on Friday and last through the weekend.

Gaetz shared his letter with the public in a press release issued Monday.

“Your executive order allows entities to embark on testing for COVID-19, in general, but does not allow different treatment for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” Gaetz’s letter to DeSantis reads. “I ask you to give this matter your immediate attention.

The “Strict and Extensive Series of COVID-19 Protocol Measures” established for the Songwriters’ Festival were designed to protect the health and well-being of all event attendees, according to the Cultural website. Arts Alliance. Test results must have been administered in a professional manner within 72 hours of being presented to event staff.

“Rest assured that this COVID protocol applies not only to ticket holders, but to all artists, volunteers, employees and technical staff working for the Festival,” the website said.

The group Humming House performs at the Seaside Amphitheater for a summer concert.  Held later this month, the 30A Songwriter Festival features musicians and bands performing at various locations along County Highway 30A.

According to Gaetz, the Songwriter‘s Festival, which this year is slated to feature more than 160 artists at venues along Scenic Highway 30A, is “funded in part” by the Walton County Tourist Development Council, a government entity.

“Passports for vaccines should not be funded by Florida taxpayers,” Gaetz’s letter said.

Gaetz asked the governor “to inform the Walton County Tourist Development Council of the ramifications if it funds the 30A Songwriters Festival under these illegal conditions.”

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Cultural Arts Alliance staff had moved to an office in the watercolor community before the Songwriters Festival. Efforts to reach Executive Director Jennifer Steele through Aquarelle staff were unsuccessful.

TDC communications director Matt Algarin said the marketing agency is urging DOH to review plans for the event.

“We welcome the opportunity for the governor and his team to address these concerns (raised by Gaetz) and will await an outcome from his office,” he said in an email.

Mama's Blue Dress performs at Central Square Records in Seaside during a 30A Songwriter Festival.

Algarin also provided clarification regarding Gaetz’s claim that the 30A Songwriter’s Festival is funded in part by taxpayer dollars.

“What the Walton County Department of Tourism provides to the 30A Songwriter’s Festival, as well as other events, is a repayable grant for marketing efforts. It is not a sponsorship of the event,” he said. he declared. “Basically, an event applies to be part of the event marketing grant program, and if approved, then it is eligible for reimbursement of a portion of its marketing expenses as long as it meets a specific criteria.”

Refunds are only made after the event is over and the documentation has been reviewed and approved, Algarin said.

Gaetz’s letter had been received by the governor’s office on Tuesday and forwarded to the Florida Department of Health “for appropriate follow-up,” according to DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw.

“The DOH is the agency that investigates these complaints and, where warranted, takes enforcement action against entities that break the law,” Pushaw said. “The administrative fine is $ 5,000 per violation, according to the law.”

Walton County Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, a frequent and outspoken critic of the DeSantis administration, said in his understanding of Executive Order 21-18 – the one Gaetz refers to in his letter – the executive order is designed to protect the rights of unvaccinated people.

According to Uhlfelder, the Cultural Arts Alliance has created a practical solution to force proof of vaccination status by offering event attendees the alternative of showing up with negative COVID test results.

“If you are not vaccinated all you have to do is show that you have been tested. I don’t even know how that applies to the decree,” he said. “It doesn’t require you to be vaccinated, you just have to show them a negative test.”

In his email response to concerns raised by Gaetz, Pushaw said Executive Order 21-18 was specifically drafted to deal with vaccination passports. Nothing in his comments addressed the issue of demonstrating negative test results as a violation of anyone’s rights.

“With the outbreak of COVID among fully vaccinated individuals and the growing evidence that vaccines are completely ineffective in preventing infection and transmission, the whole concept of a vaccine passport is anti-science,” his mail response said. electronic to a survey. “Some people cannot get the vaccine due to medical conditions, side effects, or personal beliefs. COVID-19 vaccination is a private medical decision, and anyone with questions should see a healthcare provider. health.”

Acting Walton County Administrator Dede Hinote, Walton Sheriff Michael Adkinson and the state Department of Health had all been made aware of Gaetz’s letter to the governor on Tuesday afternoon.

The TDC was in the process of producing a press release regarding the 30A Songwriter’s Festival at the time of publication, and Hinote said the Walton County commission may address Gaetz’s letter and the Cultural Arts Alliance’s safety protocols at the time of publication. of its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

The 30A Songwriters Festival 2019 generated more than $ 7 million, including $ 4.7 million from the 3,848 who traveled from out of county to participate, according to TDC statistics. An estimated 5,479 participants stayed in rental accommodation or local hotels.

Uhlfelder said he did not understand the interest of the congressman from the First District of Florida in interfering with the smooth running of an economically important event.

“It’s unfortunate, but he’s our congressman,” he said. “I’m not going to try to get into Matt Gaetz’s head and figure out his motives. I’m just saying let the music play and Matt can come in with a negative test and have fun.”

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