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As the organizers of large festivals, parades and other gatherings across the country cancelled or postponed March and April events due to COVID-19, Columbia’s True/False Film Fest proceeded as scheduled March 5 to 8. About 15,000 individuals from all over the world attended the festival. Some festivals made decisions to cancel while True/False already was in full swing. For instance, SXSW announced its cancellation on March 6. That film and music festival would have kicked off in Austin, Texas, March 13.

Attention to diminishing the spread of COVID-19 is growing throughout the country, and True/False staff continues to update its practices to best fit guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stacie Pottinger, director of development and communications for Ragtag Film Society, supplied a statement March 18 describing the continued efforts of True/False staff to keep festival attendees healthy.

As of today, no festival attendees, guests, staff or volunteers have informed True/False that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

“True/False continued to work closely with our local health department, healthcare providers and the City of Columbia to ensure all guidelines outlined by the CDC were being met,” Pottinger wrote in the statement.

This comes in response to criticism by some in Columbia. One community member, Peter Lavaute, wrote a “Letter to the Editor” in the Columbia Missourian March 16 criticizing True/False staff. “Was it worth it?” he begins his editorial.

When the first positive case of COVID-19 was announced in the U.S., True/False staff spoke with state and local health officials about whether to hold the festival. Pottinger says finances were not the festival’s focus. “Our primary concern was the safety of the city,” she says.

According to True/False’s statement, there were no positive COVID-19 cases in Missouri by March 2, the Monday before the festival began. Following CDC guidelines, Pottinger says the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department told them they saw no reason to cancel the event. The health department reviewed the countries of origin of official festival guests and determined that none were coming from areas that posed a risk at the time. “Missouri is currently at a lower risk than other places in the world,” according to the fest's March 2 statement. This decision was solidified further March 5 when Columbia mayor Brian Treece held a press conference with speakers from the City/County health department, MU and MU Health Care.

True/False also issued sanitation procedures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, such as posting CDC-approved signs, increasing the number of hand sanitizer stations and cleaning surfaces throughout the weekend, Pottinger writes.

On March 17, MU Health Care announced the first positive COVID-19 case in Boone County. As of now, True/False has not been contacted about whether the individual attended the festival, which Pottinger says is a good sign that he or she didn’t.

Ragtag Cinema will remain closed through April 2, and the festival will continue to adjust its policies as needed. All cinema and festival staff are instructed to work from home.

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