New logistical challenge for race organizers this year: COVID-19 

The city’s largest event takes a massive amount of logistical planning, but this year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach brings a new challenge for organizers: navigating new regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Long Beach adopted a stricter health order in late August as cases of the virus, spurred by the delta variant, began to rise. The order requires face coverings at outdoor mega events, but also singled out the Grand Prix in also requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.

Both the city and Los Angeles County have since adopted the same rule for all outdoor mega events, including professional sports and theme parks.

In hopes of avoiding long lines and confusion on race day—other events have suffered bad PR over this—race organizers are encouraging ticket holders to submit proof of vaccination ahead of time, or have proof handy and ready to present, with identification, on the first day they plan to attend the sporting event.

“We can’t have people stretched out on Ocean Boulevard waiting in line,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association.

Organizers are setting up a testing station in front of the Terrace Theater from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning today, Tuesday, Sept. 21, which would be 72 hours before the race from Sept. 24-26. Rapid testing sites will also be set up over race weekend at major entrances to the event.

Attendees will only need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test once, on the first day they attend; at that point they’ll receive a wristband indicating they are OK to enter.

“We’re trying to make this as easy as possible,” Michaelian said, adding that, “We’ll have the safest mega event in the state of California.”

The Grand Prix was initially the only outdoor mega event burdened with the vaccination or negative test requirement, which city officials said in a statement was due to the fact that the Grand Prix is so large, and draws many people from out of state. But on Sept. 15, a new rule was adopted that will mandate this for all large mega events outdoors, beginning in October. The state and city are also mandating this requirement for indoor events over 1,000 people.

The Grand Prix Association has had to bring on extra staff, at extra cost, though Michaelian declined to give specifics on finances for the race. This added expense comes a year after the race was canceled in mid-March 2020, when grandstands were already being assembled along Shoreline Boulevard.

“We had to take everything down with no revenue,” Michaelian said.

Organizers pushed the 2021 race as far into the IndyCar season as possible, hoping the prevalence of the virus would wane.

That appeared to be happening in mid-June, when the state lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions and abandoned its color-coded system of determining what can open based on case rates and other indicators.

But after June, COVID-19 cases again began to rise, with health officials blaming the prevalence of the more-contagious delta variant, the lifting of restrictions and the lag in vaccinations among eligible groups.

When the city enacted its stricter health order on Aug. 18, the case rate had shot up to 35.5 per 100,000 residents, up from less than one case per 100,000 residents on June 15.

That case rate has since edged downward, with officials hoping the recent spike has peaked and is waning. As of Sept. 17, the city’s case rate was 19.5.

Race officials, meanwhile, have set up a webpage with detailed information on COVID-19 precautions, including how to show proof of vaccination, testing locations, and requirements for face coverings. Visit gplb.com/covid-19-info/.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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