Puerto Rican fest president on safety plans amid COVID concerns

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester is home to the largest Puerto Rican population in New York State outside of New York City.

"There are many other — not just Puerto Ricans in Rochester — ” said Puerto Rican Festival President Orlando Ortiz, “other Latinos, Dominicans, Panamanians, Venezuela… so you name it, they’re here."

On Saturday, the 51st annual Puerto Rican Festival kicks off at La Marketa International Plaza, a departure from the festival’s previous home of Frontier Field. At Frontier Field, the festival had been known to draw 30,000 people over a weekend. This year’s venue has a much smaller capacity.

Ortiz says there will be volunteers at the entrance counting people as they go in, and he’s not too concerned about the size of the crowd.

"We are told by city officials that we can have up to 2,000 people here," Ortiz said.

So what happens if more than 2,000 people show up at once?

"RPD is prepared to help us and our security to manage any overflow that happens onto North Clinton Avenue if needed,” Ortiz said. “That may result in portions of North Clinton Avenue being shut down temporarily."

The City of Rochester says that the capacity of La Marketa International Plaza is 3,990 people and that the festival’s capped capacity is “extremely conservative.” The North Clinton Ave neighborhood has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Monroe County. At no point in the festival will attendees be asked to show proof of vaccination, though masks are encouraged for everyone (especially unvaccinated people). PPE and hand sanitizer will be available at the festival.

News10NBC asked Ortiz if he thinks the event has the potential to be a super-spreader.

"I look at this event like any other event that’s happening in Rochester,” Ortiz said. “You know, you have Party in the Park, you have Frontier Field games."

A vaccine clinic run by Trillium Health will be set up across the street from La Marketa at the Father Tracy Advocacy Center. Volunteers from the North East Safety Committee will be monitoring the area during the festival and into the evening.

"A big reason why we came to exist was to bridge the cultural divide with RPD and the community,” said North East Safety Committee coordinator Anthony Plonczynski Figueroa.

In past years there have been reports about things getting out of hand after the festival is over.

"We’re one of the safest festivals in Monroe County,” Ortiz said. “We haven’t had any incidents for almost 5+ years at the actual festival and we don’t anticipate any of that happening this year either."

Some people in the neighborhood have voiced concerns about violence and spreading COVID at the event, while others have said it’s a step in the right direction and will bring needed business to the area.

The festival runs from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. At 1 p.m., North Clinton Ave will become north-bound traffic only, and barriers will be put up on sidewalks to prevent dirt bikes and ATVs from passing through.

Next weekend on Aug. 21, the festival moves to Parcel 5.