‘What pandemic?’: Feeling normal again at the Cactus Festival

The highways are once again crowded and even busier on weekends.

The same was true for the road to King Street in Dundas on Saturday, as the Cactus Festival returned to full pre-pandemic form with more than 100 vendors spreading their stalls down the small town street.

Steve Deighton, chairman of the festival’s organizing committee, told The Spectator that vendors were selling out their food and services, “and people are celebrating like they would have in 2019.”

Friday night – the start of the three-day festival – was “the best night in my memory for the past 16 years”, Deighton said.

The classic Canadian summer experience with “great weather, great music” and “tons of activities” for kids and families felt like the days of 2019.

The Ruddy Ruckus performs on the main stage on Saturday afternoon.The Hamilton Spectator

In Deighton’s opinion, the turnout was “100%,” a sign that people are getting back to normal after the pandemic.

Hank and Leonie Holzel hold hands while walking down King Street.
Hank and Leonie Holzel hold hands while walking down King Street.The Hamilton Spectator

But is the COVID-19 pandemic really over?

The simple answer is no.

For most people, COVID-19 has become “something we have to learn to live through and with,” said Rene Alfaro, owner of Toronto-based Mis Amigos Catering.

Alfaro, a first-time vendor at the festival, was happy to see the “nice long lines” outside his Latin American food stand, seeing people show up like before.

While he knows the pandemic isn’t over, “it won’t be over any time soon,” Alfaro said. “…But we cannot continue in a vicious circle. We need to revive the economy. »

Simon Tsobanakis prepares a platter of delicacies at one of the many food stalls along King Street.
Simon Tsobanakis prepares a platter of delicacies at one of the many food stalls along King Street.The Hamilton Spectator

Dr Dominik Mertz, medical director of infection control at Hamilton Health Sciences, said it has become clear over the past two years “how (the infection) is spreading…and it will probably never go away” .

“So the question is: how are we going to live with this in the future?” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Visitors browse King Street in downtown Dundas.
Visitors browse King Street in downtown Dundas.The Hamilton Spectator

While the state of COVID-19 transmission in Hamilton plateaus, the infection rate is stable. The average number of COVID cases was 77 on August 14, according to the city’s latest report.

Kerry, a 68-year-old Dundas resident, was walking away from the crowds on the sidewalk on Saturday during the festival, enjoying the sight of local vendors and people from a distance.

He told The Spectator he has been visiting Cactus Fest for over 25 years.

“If not now, then when?” he replied when asked about the risks of the pandemic. Kerry explained that he took all precautionary measures and is fully vaccinated with two boosters.

He added that he had his mask with him, “in case I was near someone”.

Osman Mohammed, 6, seems a little undecided about a pony ride at the festival.
Osman Mohammed, 6, seems a little undecided about a pony ride at the festival.The Hamilton Spectator

Compared to the summer of 2020, Mertz said, “People have had vaccines now, and they know they’re much better protected than when they started.”

He said there is “a whole range of behaviors and risk perceptions,” with some not feeling comfortable leaving the house and others not thinking about COVID at all.

People’s interaction with infection and vaccines over time has “reduced their fear of infection”, he said.

Neil Sadler of Neil's Real Deal was busy selling his hot sauces to the crowd.
Neil Sadler of Neil’s Real Deal was busy selling his hot sauces to the crowd.The Hamilton Spectator

Neil Sadler, a hot sauce vendor at the festival, thinks the pandemic is long over.

“What pandemic? Sadler – who owns Brantford-based Neil’s Real Deal – joked.

He said he only noticed one person wearing a mask at the party on Saturday morning, adding that “everyone should do what they are comfortable doing”.

Marilyn McLaughlin reviews a Thunderstick Music Maker at one of the many vendors.
Marilyn McLaughlin reviews a Thunderstick music maker at one of many vendors.The Hamilton Spectator

Mertz noted regardless of how the summer goes, there is a likelihood of a spike again in the fall, “entering respiratory virus season.”

For that, Mertz said, “we are ready.”

In his view, the widespread availability of booster shots and bivalent vaccines would continue to control transmission.

Musician Keith Silver performs on stage Saturday afternoon.
Musician Keith Silver performs on stage Saturday afternoon.The Hamilton Spectator

Jackie and Paul Roe were at the festival with their three children. Both teachers and residents of Dundas, Jackie told the Spectator, they came down from their cabin “just for the party” — also the first time for the kids.

The family felt comfortable being outside among people. However, next fall when cases are likely to spike, Jackie said the family will be cutting back on restaurants, “but that (a fall surge) isn’t going to slow us down too much.”

She added that her children are “still registered for fall events and activities” and that she has no plans to cancel them.

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