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The city of Maricopa held its first Copa Glow event a year ago.

MARICOPA — A January outdoor event put on by the city of Maricopa has come under fire for continuing as scheduled despite a surging pandemic.

Copa Glow is an annual city event held at Copper Sky Recreation Center that includes an outdoor night market, hot air balloon rides, food trucks and a beer garden. This year, the event is proceeding as scheduled at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15, and has come under fire from some residents who are concerned about the impact on the community’s COVID-19 numbers.

Arizona recently received the grim title for leading the world in a seven-day average for COVID-19 cases as the pandemic rages. When cases hovered in the dozens a day in March, the city closed its City Council meetings to audiences, and other festivals, galas and retreats were postponed or canceled.

On Jan. 3, Arizona reported more than 17,000 new COVID cases, marking a total never before seen in the state. There were 8,998 cases reported Monday.

Maricopa has been among the state’s fastest risers in terms of cases. The city’s two ZIP codes as of Monday combine for 4,804 cases, up 505 from the previous week and more than double where the total was at the beginning of December.

Local resident Merry Grace was surprised the event was still moving forward and posted her concerns to her Facebook page.

“All it takes is one person to spread this virus,” Grace later said in an interview. “As city leaders, they have a responsibility to not promote or encourage activities that will be causing spread in the community — not at this time. It’s just irresponsible. It’s not right. It’s not ethical.”

She received dozens of responses to her post, including several from Mayor Christian Price. The mayor highlighted the COVID precautions the city has taken for the event and emphasized the event is following all of the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He also pointed to several events that the city held in the previous months, such as the State of the City Address and Merry Copa, which followed the guidelines set by the CDC.

“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that we have a safe environment for people that choose to come and participate in this,” Price said in an interview. “If people choose not to, that’s OK.”

On Thursday, the city released more regulations in relation to the event. According to the city, attendance and capacity will be regulated and attendees are asked to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet. Markings will indicate 6 feet distance while waiting in lines. Masks that cover the mouth and nose will be required for attendees, staff and vendors. Hand sanitizer and masks will be available on site.

“We have a mayor who’s not mandating masks (in public), so is he really going to be able to enforce others who are out there to party and who are not necessarily heeding warnings?” Grace asked. “Is he really going to be able to say it’s required to wear a mask when they know, ‘OK, the city doesn’t mandate a mask so you can’t tell me I have to wear a mask.’”

Price stated that anyone not wearing a mask appropriately will be asked to leave city property.

According to the city, this year’s event was also modified to be more adult-friendly and to encourage individuals not to linger.

“Kids are welcome,” the statement on the event page states, “but there won’t be attractions that would hold their interest (for hours) or be worth waiting in line for other than the tethered balloon rides, which would require registration.”

The event description goes on to highlight that attendees can eat, drink and check out vendors before riding a balloon at their scheduled time.

In the comments under Grace’s private post, discussion of the event quickly turned to COVID-19 in general. At one point, Price compared the risk of getting the virus to a car accident.

“We live in a world of uncertainty and risk,” Price wrote. “Every time we get in the car we suffer risk. But we do it because it’s a convenient way to get to work. But cars are more dangerous than this disease (virus).”

This claim has been refuted by data reported from the National Traffic Safety Association.

According to the data, an average of 24,166 people died in car accidents yearly from 2013 to 2018, while 365,000 people died of COVID-19 in 2020 alone.

This data shows that at least 10 times more people died of COVID-19 in 2020 than of car accidents.

“To dismiss the severity of this is wrong,” Grace said. “That’s a slap in the face of the people who have lost loved ones, including my husband, who lost his aunt.”

Price later said in an interview he was not making a “numerical comparison.”

At a Thursday night board meeting, Maricopa Unified School District Vice President AnnaMarie Knorr pointed to the latest city events as reason to keep the schools open.

“The city is still holding their community events, the restaurants are open, the bars are open, UltraStar is open, you can play flag football, you can go to the skatepark. … You can do anything you want to do that was available pre-COVID, except go to school,” Knorr said. “If the rest of society doesn’t change, we won’t have graduations even if we do close. It will not be the school district’s fault, period.”

She also stated that by closing the schools, the district is sending the message that school isn’t important, or not as important as other activities currently being allowed by the city.

Price said the circumstances surrounding MUSD’s decision to reopen schools were much different than Copa Glow.

“At the end of the day, the Copa Glow event is very different than kids sitting in a closed classroom, so that’s the school district’s decision,” Price said.

As of publication, the Copa Glow event is scheduled to proceed as planned by the city.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.