Memphis in May International Festival (MIM) selected Ghana as its honored nation for 2020. MIM Board Chair Charles Ewing (left) and MIM President James Holt (right) traveled to Ghana in October to collaborate with Dr. Nana Appiagyei Dankawoso, Traditional Chief of Asante Juaben; President, Ghana National Chamber of Commerce; President, Pan African Chamber of Commerce and leader of Ghana's Private Sector Council. (Courtesy photo)

Memphis in May International Festival officials have said ‘the show will go on’ for 2020, despite nationwide coronavirus concerns.

MIM events, including the famous Beale Street Music Festival, May 1-3 in Tom Lee Park, are planned as scheduled. Meanwhile, MIM officials will monitor changes in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Memphis/Shelby County, which was one at The New Tri-State Defender’s print deadline.

“Local health officials report that the coronavirus threat is low in Memphis,” said Charles Ewing, MIM 2020 board chair and president and founder of Ewing Moving & Storage.

“Memphis in May is seven weeks away … a lot can change in that time. “We have well-planned, well-thought-out policies if there’s a threat to our constituents. Safety is number one, so we’ll exhaust all opportunities to secure their safety.”

World Health Organization officials Wednesday, because the virus has spread to more than 100 countries, qualified it as a global pandemic.

The first COVID-19 case in Memphis was identified this week. Actions were immediately taken to quarantine 70 people in contact with the patient in order to avoid virus spread.

Across the U.S., more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases and 31 related deaths have been reported.

Austin, Texas cancelled March dates for its annual South by Southwest film and music festival due to growing COVID-19 concerns.

Miami, Florida postponed the annual Ultra Music and Calle Ocho festivals scheduled for March to avoid spread of the virus.

Like MIM celebrations, these events draw hundreds of thousands of travelers and residents.

Officials of other spring and summer festivals throughout the country are either considering cancellation, or deciding not to make a hasty judgment, hoping the crisis subsides prior to event time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that elderly citizens and people with chronic or underlying illnesses are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Yet, any individual can carry and spread the virus.

“We’ll plan up to the wire,” says Ewing about the possibility of cancelling MIM 2020.

“Our hope is that the CDC will have a vaccine in the next several weeks. Ultimately, we’ll make decisions based on our constituents’ best interest.”

“There’s increased excitement,” says MIM vice president of marketing Robert Griffin, who attributes growing anticipation of MIM to the music festival lineup, plus Memphis’ low threat, so far, of COVID-19.

Music lovers are slated to enjoy three days of rock, rap, pop, blues and country acts on multiple stages.

Lil Wayne, Nelly, Weezer, The Lumineers, The Smashing Pumpkins and Memphis-born Three 6 Mafia and among famous live bands and artists scheduled to perform.

Ticket sales total more than $1 million currently.

Annually, MIM provides an estimated $111 million economic impact to the city and attracts more than 100,000 travelers, plus locals.

Event goers enjoy Memphis culture while learning the culture of MIM’s annual honored nation.

For 2020, MIM will salute Ghana – a developing country in West Africa.

Ewing, MIM president Jim Holt and other officials traveled to Ghana in October to initiate collaboration between Memphis and the African nation.

At that time, COVID-19 had not appeared.

This week, interested citizens of Memphis are traveling to Ghana for the at-cost, all-inclusive price of $4,000. (Annually, the opportunity to preview MIM’s honored nation is offered to the public at cost.)

Randy Blevins, MIM’s 2020 director of programming, will guide 43 Memphians on the eight-day Ghana tour. Ewing and Holt will assist with leading the group.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Shelby County Commissioner Mickell Lowery are among trip goers.

Prior to departure, each traveler was sent a letter recommending consultation with their personal physician on protecting themselves against disease and staying healthy while abroad.

Ghana has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at present.

According to the World Health Organization, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China in December. The global COVID-19 outbreak that followed caused artists such as Mariah Carey, Madonna and Miley Cyrus to cancel spring concerts in and out of the U.S.

Some St. Patrick’s Day Parades scheduled for March have been cancelled across the U.S., as well as The UNICEF Ball in Beverly Hills and other observances.

In addition to Beale Street Music Festival, MIM sanctioned events include the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest and Great American River Run and the month-long International Salute to Ghana showcasing the nation’s history, cuisine, art, education, economy, entertainment and traditions.

The CDC is not yet certain whether novel COVID-19 will be less active in warmer months as happens with some strains of influenza. However, the agency will track the possibility.

Next week, MIM will make an additional announcement about its new collaboration with Ghana, which promises further interest in the international festival.

 (For more information about Memphis in May International Festival, visit https://www.memphisinmay.org.)