CINCINNATI — In years past, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati perennially has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors — some years topping half a million — to downtown Cincinnati, but last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the region, organizers had no choice but to cancel.
But this year — despite the recent surge in cases, particularly associated with the virus' delta variant — the German festival is back on, in person. The difference this year: the availability of a vaccine, organizers and health officials said.
"When you're elbow-to-elbow with a half-million of your closest friends, it's very hard to social distance," said Mike Samet, spokesman for the Hamilton County Board of Health.
Officials with the Cincinnati Health Department said their hands are tied when it comes to enforcing COVID-19 health safety practices, such as masking or social distancing, due to the lack of mandates at the state level. They can and will monitor food vendors for food safety throughout the weekend, but the agency has no authority when it comes to pandemic protocols.
That's why, Samet said, it's particularly important that visitors, at best, be vaccinated and, at least, wear masks.
"It's very hard to stay apart from one another, so masks are really important, as is vaccination," Samet said. "There is a way out of this pandemic. We're staring it down, and it's vaccination."
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati did not implement a masking or vaccination requirement for this year's four-day event.
Visitors will likely see food vendors establishing their own rules for their employees.