Mandatory Masks, Temperature Checks: How Florida Did An Auto Show During Pandemic

Masks were absolutely mandatory. Hand sanitizer abounded. Temperatures were taken. Forms saying you neither had COVID-19, nor had been in the presence of anyone who had it, were required. Product specialists and models walked around with signs reminding people to wear masks. A full-sized screen at the Chevrolet stand proclaimed how all the cars were sanitized each time someone sat in one.

It was supposed to happen in September, but the Central Florida International Auto Show was postponed over to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, organizers began working then to try to find a way to hold the show before the end of the year.

It opened December 18, a Friday, and it closes today, Sunday. The three-day show may not be a home for major new car debuts and industry news on the scale of Los Angles, Chicago or Detroit, but the organizers, the Central Florida Auto Dealers Association, saw the Orlando show as an experiment to prove that you could hold an auto show safely in the time of COVID-19—with a lot of work.

“I’ve heard that a lot of people are coming to see how you can put an auto show in the midst of a pandemic,” Evelyn Cardenas, president of the CFADA, told WKMG TV.

At least, that’s the idea. The wisdom of holding a regional auto show at all right now is still deeply questionable, especially in Florida, where state health officials reported more than 11,500 new cases and 250 hospitalizations on Saturday alone. Florida has had less strict coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and events than other states; there, happenings like an EDM concert in Miami and a hockey game in Tampa have proven to be “superspreader events.” With any luck—and the work of organizers—this auto show will escape the same fate.

Cardenas said she didn’t know the projected attendance, but an early estimate in a trade journal pegged it at 26,000. Attendees, who paid $15 for an adult ticket and $10 to park, seemed unbothered by the price or the potential risk. “We feel safe,” said Tony Carey of Orlando. “They have put all the proper precautions in place, and you only have to get as close to someone as you feel comfortable with.”

Aisles, normally as wide as the black carpet, were expanded eight feet onto the concrete.

Carey was waiting in line to sit in a new yellow Chevrolet Corvette, one of the hits of the show. Others included the new Ford Mustang Mach-E and Bronco Sport. Test drives abounded both inside the 500,000-square-foot Orange County Convention Center, and outside in the parking lot, including an indoor Jeep test track. Almost all the several hundred new vehicles on display we open, with sticker prices displayed. 

It is called a “non-sell” show, where attendees don’t get a hard-pressure sales job. The show advertised 400 vehicles on display, with the chance to test-drive 80.

“This is definitely our comeback,” Nadia Vanderhoff of the Orange County Convention Center told WKMG TV. “I think we’ve done our due diligence in showing, not only Central Florida but the entire industry that we are safe, we are healthy, we are ready to host shows.”

We’ll find out if that’s the case in a few weeks. In the meantime, keep those masks on and stay socially distant. 

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