COVID-19 cautions spark cancellations

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Rebecca Boughner of Fort Wayne, Indiana, exits the Artists’ Guild Gallery after browsing March 12. The gallery, operated by the Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island in the Island Shopping Center at 5414 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, canceled its reception and fundraiser March 13 due to concerns about COVID-19. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The datebook got messy.

March 12 was the day Anna Maria Island groups and institutions announced the first round of event cancellations, taking precautions and safeguards as COVID-19, the new coronavirus, was declared a global pandemic.

Calls came into The Islander’s newspaper office.

Notices arrived via email to editors’ accounts.

And posts popped up on Facebook.

First with a notice, the Artists’ Guild Gallery in Holmes Beach decided to cancel the March 13 artists’ reception and paint-around fundraiser to help the nonprofit group raise rent money for the gallery.

“I am sorry to bring you this news,” Sharon Tarras, AGAMI president said, citing “health risks posed by the coronavirus.”

Soon after, Island Gallery West in Holmes Beach also canceled its March 13 artist reception and the Anna Maria Island Privateers postponed their Thieves Market set for March 14.

The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the southeast also got sidelined, as founder and organizer Sean Murphy announced March 12 the postponement of the Irish-themed celebration he’d booked for March 15 in Holmes Beach.

Murphy, owner of the Doctor’s Office, Beach Bistro and Eat Here in Holmes Beach, provided a notice framed in Kelly green that ended with a shamrock: “The Irish are good at tragedy … and hilarity. Our history abounds with famines and celebrations.

“In an effort to take all measures available to help ensure public safety and at the request of our chief of police and emergency services we are postponing our annual St. Patrick’s Day parade until a time when public gatherings are more carefree.”

The announcement indicated the holiday would be celebrated “a little later in the year.”

The Center of Anna Maria Island also made a major cancelation, postponing the annual tour of homes — one of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers — to 2021. The tour of five homes had been scheduled for March 21.

“The center’s No. 1 priority is the safety of our members, volunteers, participants and staff,” read a statement from the center. “With concerns about COVID-19, we have made the decision to postpone the 27th Annual Tour of Homes until next year.”

The center said tickets purchased for $25 each could be redeemed on the 2021 tour and tickets sold for the raffle of the tour of homes quilt also would be honored in 2021.

The center also postponed The Grass Roots concert set for March 19 until December.

As of March 14, the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, planned to stay open to offer fitness classes, youth programs and sports.

“We will continue to stay informed and make decisions based on the information and recommendations from health officials,” the center notice read. “If this changes, we will send out emails and post on our social media to make sure everyone is informed on all of the decisions we make.”

At the Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach, the decision was made to cancel Thursday night bingo games for the rest of the season, as well as a roasted-chicken community dinner, set for March 20.

“We are sorry for the short notice, but due to the virus concerns and close quarters at the center, we have made this decision,” read a notice from Linda Yarger of the center. “Hope to see you next January.”

The Anna Maria Island Garden Club also announced a calendar change — the annual flower show scheduled for March 18 at Roser Memorial Community Church would not take place.

And the AMI/West Manatee Democratic Club canceled its March meeting in Bradenton.

Local sports also took a hit, as Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of spring training March 12 and pushed back the start of the regular season for MLB and minor league ball at least two weeks.

At LECOM Park in Bradenton, the Pittsburgh Pirates played one final exhibition game before the premature end of their training days. The Pirates took on the Toronto Blue Jays March 12 and lost 7-5.

“I flew down to see the Pirates and Twins and I’m really sorry I won’t get to see that game,” said baseball fan and Minnesotan Carla Lewis. “But we need to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The cancellations came in a wave as more organizations and institutions at home and around the world heeded public health officials calls for “social distancing” to slow the rate of infections by reducing exposure and keeping people at higher risk — those over age 60 and those with chronic medical conditions — from crowds.

As cancellations multiplied, some groups took a wait-and-see approach but, by the weekend, issued cancellation notices.

The Island Players had sent an email to ticketholders March 11 that read in part, “The health and safety of our audiences is of the highest importance to us. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are prepared for many scenarios. Currently, all performances at the Island Players’ theater are continuing as planned.”

But March 14, the theater group canceled those performances.

The Friends of the Island Library also canceled a book sale set for March 20-21 at the Holmes Beach institution.

Meanwhile, some island institutions provided and promoted alternative means of participating.

Roser Memorial Community Church, for example, continued to hold activities and worship at 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, but also reminded worshippers they can watch live-streaming of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services at