GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Despite repeated suggestions from county health officials, organizers of the West Michigan Women's Expo decided to open their doors to the public Friday.
Officials with the Kent County Health Department said this week that they advised any gatherings of 100 people or more to be cancelled or postponed. This suggestion, among others, came directly from the Centers for Disease Control.
In the midst of these suggestions and the cancellations of countless other events in West Michigan due to COVID-19, organizers of the West Michigan Women's Expo decided their event would go on as planned.
Organizers wrote on the event's facebook page Friday morning in part, "In light of the spread of COVID-19, we continue to carefully monitor health reports and follow guidance from the CDC." They said they would be providing extra hand sanitizer stations throughout the expo. "We understand that everyone has to make personal choices about their health. We encourage those who are sick to stay home," the post continued.
FOX 17 attempted to reach organizers over the phone but have had no luck. Our crew stopped by DeVos Place where the event was taking place, but we were immediately alerted by security that all media had been barred from the event.
We were told that organizers would not be making themselves available for comment.
Some of the people in attendance Friday morning were glad that the event went on as planned. “I guess I choose to not live my life in fear, but not in stupidity either. Be informed, do what you need to do, wash your hands,” Shelly French said.
Another guest, Michone Hamlin, told FOX 17, “the fear that set in with people, its crazy that they’re letting it pull this turmoil.”
Kristi Hawley, DO, owner of The Derm Institute of West Michigan, paid to have a booth at this year's expo. She ended up deciding not to attend though out of an abundance of caution for her patients.
“I’m not worried about myself getting sick, I will get through it just fine. I'm more worried about what will happen if I get my 80-year-old patient sick or if I'm around someone who's immunocompromised,” Hawley, DO, told FOX 17.
Despite the expo's efforts to stay open, they ended up closing the doors at 1:30 p.m. Friday after an order was issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, banning events with over 250 people in attendance.
Organizers posted an update to the event's Facebook page, saying in part, "While we are disappointed, we support the decision we hope will be effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19."
Those who purchased their expo tickets online or by phone are supposed to receive automatic refunds. The organizers said int heir post that those bought tickets at DeVos Place will have to come in-person to get their refunds. They said that does not need to be done today or in the next few weeks.