CAIRO — The Cairo-Grady County Chamber Commerce has announced that the 32nd Annual Great Southern Car Rally has been postponed.

Chamber executive director Trey Gainous released a statement Wednesday that he spoke with Car Rally officials and together made the decision that the annual event could not take place the weekend of May 9 due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines earlier this month recommending that public gatherings of 50 or more individuals though the end of April be canceled or postponed. Though the Car Rally fell just outside of that period, Gainous said it was too close for comfort to make plans to move forward with the event.

“You have to take everybody’s safety into account,” he said. “It was just too uncertain to go ahead with it.”

With most Car Rally participants being older individuals from out of state, Gainous said event planners could not afford to risk exposing the virus to the population most susceptible to dying from it. The Chamber director said he also considered the economic impact of the virus, and doubted that many local businesses would even be in a position to support such an event in just six weeks.

Event planners are “seriously considering” rescheduling the event for the fall, Gainous said. No specific dates have been considered, though the Chamber director said he personally believes October is an ideal target.

Gainous did not rule out the possibility that the event could be canceled altogether.

“This is looking pretty rough for everybody as it sits,” he said.

Canceling the rally likely would deliver an economic blow to the community, particularly to hotels and restaurants, Gainous said.

“From a tourism standpoint, it’s the biggest event we have,” he said.

Hotels in Cairo are often booked for the event, and both city hotels and an Airbnb at Pope’s Store Museum were already filled in anticipation of the rally taking place in May. The Chamber itself stands to lose about $5,000 it budgets for the event each year.

The Car Rally joins a list of Chamber events that have been canceled or postponed in recent weeks due to the coronavirus. A planned fishing tournament at Tired Creek Lake originally scheduled for April 18 has been postponed, likely to be rescheduled in the summer, and a 5k walk and run through downtown Cairo set to take place earlier this month was scrapped entirely.

“Every event that is our fundraiser just got canceled,” Gainous said.

With no other events planned until the fall, the Chamber officials are refocusing their efforts on working closely with local leaders to disseminate vital information to and from member businesses.

“It’s our time to shine in terms of protecting the businesses we work for,” Gainous said.

As part of those efforts, the Chamber sent a mass questionnaire this week to local manufacturers asking them if they believe they could survive an economic downturn and how well prepared they would be for such an event.

“Literally every manufacturer responded,” Gainous said.

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