CEDAR RAPIDS — Cliford Estores promises his “#SaveTheProm” event Friday night will be a lavish occasion — with a guest DJ flown in from California, dancing and a mask-friendly masquerade theme — that will make up for the proms many high schools canceled during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“My goal is to give them a ray of hope,” Estores, who performs under the name DJ Clife, said. “We’re giving you an amazing experience, so you don’t have to have a bad memory of 2020.”
But the event is deeply concerning for Linn County Public Health officials, who recommend against gatherings of more than 10 people, especially indoors.
“It doesn’t make any sense to do this,” said Dustin Hinrichs, the department’s food and aquatics safety supervisor. “The reason schools aren’t doing this is it’s unsafe. That’s why prom was canceled, that’s why school was canceled. … This is exactly the scenario we’re trying to avoid.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ most recent disaster proclamation allows gatherings of any size in a venue that maintains 6 feet of social distancing and implements other hygiene and public health measures.
Coronavirus cases in the state are climbing, and the seven-day rolling average of reported cases of COVID-19 is at its highest point since May 7.
Friday’s prom, which is expected to see about 100 teenagers, vendors and chaperones, was scheduled to be held in the coliseum of the Veterans Memorial Building — until Monday, when the venue reneged on its contract with Estores. Tish Young emailed Estores to cancel, citing city officials’ decision to extend closures of government buildings to the public until July 20.
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“Linn County Department of Health is kind of our guiding force,” Veterans Memorial Program Coordinator Young told The Gazette.
But the last-minute venue problem hasn’t stopped Estores’ event. He booked a private indoor venue, Shores Event Center in Cedar Rapids, and intends to hold the prom Friday as scheduled.
“All government buildings remain closed until July 20,” Estores said. “But when it comes to the guidelines of events and everything, weddings are happening, bars are open, and we are open when it comes to entertainment and events.”
Jason Alberty, owner of the Shores venue, said he booked the prom event Tuesday and was not aware of the county’s recommendations, which conflict with the state’s.
He said he opened reluctantly when Reynolds allowed it and has implemented social distancing measures — limiting the 230-capacity venue to 100 guests — inside his northeast Cedar Rapids space.
“I’m absolutely wanting to comply with everything,” Alberty said. “I don’t even want to be open right now, but I don’t have any recourse because the government’s just let us hang out there. If the government says we can open, I have to open because if I close of my own accord, I owe thousands of dollars to my clients for shutting down. That would be the end of my business.”
After being made aware of the county recommendations, Alberty said Thursday he would add required temperature checks at the door. Because parents have given their children permission to attend, he said he decided not to back out of the event.
The terms and conditions of the dance’s tickets, which sold for $35 to $55, say teenagers should wear face masks and must arrive with a signed parental consent form. Social distancing will be strongly encouraged, but organizers “will not police” attendees.
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“We are being careful with this,” Estores said, “but we also don’t want to create some bad vibes for the kids and just cancel all of this.”
When he set out planning, he expected 300 students to attend. His original venue, at Veterans Memorial, had space for 1,500.
One teenager who has permission to attend the dance said she is concerned about the novel coronavirus but isn’t letting it keep her home.
“I feel like people have found a way to work around the corona, so why should I let that stop me from living my life, when I could find a way to work around it and go out and go to prom?” said Osnaika Augustin, 17. “I feel like I deserve to go to prom. The ‘rona is going to be here regardless. It’s best to find a way to work around that than to stay cooped up waiting for it to go away.”
Estores’ intention for the event, which he said is not netting him a profit, was to give teenagers “an amazing time” after their high school spring semesters left them “heartbroken.”
Hinrichs, of Linn County Public Health, said he sympathizes with this year’s high school graduates but stressed such gatherings are not yet safe.
“It’s going to be likely a year or more, at least, before we’re going to be able to recommend these things,” he said. “We know it’s not a fun situation, but that’s just reality.”
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