Vancouver, Washington, resident John Jordan ascends Potato Salad Hill, a popular four-wheel drive test area, in his Bronco during a previous Easter Jeep Safari. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Off-road enthusiasts who are registered for the 2021 Easter Jeep Safari, scheduled for March 27 through April 4, are waiting to hear whether the event is on or off. The Safari is hosted by Moab’s Red Rock 4-Wheelers club and has taken place every spring since 1967, except in 2020 when COVID-19-related closures forced the event to be canceled.

A year later, the pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere and government officials at all levels continue to impose restrictions to protect public health. Grand County commissioners voted on Nov. 17 to put limitations on special event permits in the county, with participation caps that are tied to the state COVID-19 Transmission Index.

Jeep Safari organizers had posted on social media that the event would be canceled, but backtracked that announcement with this Feb. 2 statement on their website:

“We are currently in a holding pattern, due to Covid restrictions in permitting Special Events. We are working diligently with all parties involved for a positive EJS outcome. Please be patient as this is a fluid situation.”

With the registration window drawing near, prospective event attendees are posting a flurry of questions and expressions of disappointment and irritation on social media.

Some commenters incorrectly linked the possible cancelation to the county’s recent moratorium on ATV-based events. However, county officials have clarified that they have not denied the event a permit and stressed that Jeeps do not fall under the ATV moratorium.

Grand County, along with 26 of Utah’s 29 counties, is currently in the “High Transmission” risk level for COVID-19, according to the state’s Transmission Index, which is determined using three metrics tracking the positivity rates of COVID-19 tests, case rates, and statewide hospital ICU capacities. Social distancing, limiting group gatherings and wearing masks in public are still promoted by health officials as the best means to curb the spread of the virus.

Grand County staff has publicly expressed concern that large special events were getting beyond the scope of their ability to enforce health mandates. With Moab’s busy spring season approaching, commissioners voted to create COVID-19 guidelines for approving special event permits. (See “Large public events cause COVID-19 concerns: Commission considers restrictions” in the Nov. 12 edition)

Under the new guidelines, when the county is in the High risk level under the state’s Transmission Index, indoor events must be canceled and outdoor events are capped at 250 participants. If the county drops down to the Moderate risk level, indoor events are capped at 500 people and outdoor events may include as many as 1,000 participants.

Other spring events have obtained permits from the City of Moab, which is adhering to the guidelines required by the county. The Moab Half Marathon, scheduled for March 20, is open for registration. The Skinny Tire Festival, a road biking event scheduled for March 13 through 16, has obtained a permit but is holding off on registration until mid-February, at which time organizers will consider the current risk level and assess whether it is safe to go forward. These events must adhere to the participant caps that apply at the date of the event.

Easter Jeep Safari organizers said they will meet with county officials on Feb. 3 to discuss the 2021 event.