Masked spectators walk by the grandstands where many were unmasked during Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

This year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark a turning point.

The three-day race, which includes a Lifestyle Expo at the Long Beach Convention Center, will be the first major event in the city with no COVID-19 mandates in place.

As of April 1, the city no longer requires organizers of indoor “mega” events to verify the vaccination status or check negative COVID-19 test results of attendees before allowing them to enter.

“Obviously, we’re delighted that we can conduct this event this year without any of the mandates and regulations that we had imposed when we ran the race back in September,” Grand Prix Association of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian told the Business Journal.

Under the previous regulations, Michaelian and the Grand Prix faced logistical challenges in setting up the event. With rules shifting—and standards differing based on whether the venue was inside or outside—questions on how to actually execute the event while adhering to COVID regulations emerged.

Before the most recent change in the city’s health order, Long Beach’s requirements would have impacted the Lifestyle Expo because it’s held indoors but not the rest of the Grand Prix’s events.

“The question was: Where do we examine individuals in terms of their proof of vaccination, or their negative COVID test?” Michaelian said. “Do you do it outside the Convention Center itself, which is very difficult because of the amount of people and movement and the lack of queuing areas?”

While the most recent Grand Prix—which was postponed to September because of the pandemic—followed those requirements, Michaelian said he’s glad the event is free of that burden.

“It’s going to be similar to what it was in the past,” he said.

“We’re delighted that when they come here,” Michaelian said of this year’s attendees, “they will not be required to observe any of the mandates which have been in place during these last months and years.”

In the long term, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the change will be the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, which will be allowed to host events of any size at the Long Beach Convention Center without mandates. Like the Grand Prix, the CVB is excited to see the return of the Grand Prix with no COVID-19 requirements.

“During the Super Bowl, we sensed that fans were eager for a major sporting event to return with some normalcy,” Long Beach CVB Steve Goodling said. “Since the Grand Prix is Long Beach’s Super Bowl, we are excited that people will get to experience the Grand Prix as it was before the pandemic.”

Officials with Long Beach’s Health and Human Services Department, though, noted that a lack of mandates does not necessarily mark the end of the pandemic as a whole.

“Although this is a big milestone, the pandemic is not over. With available vaccines, new antivirals, and accessible testing, we are hopeful that we will be able to continue to have safe events” Laath Martin, who works with the Public Health Emergency Management at the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.

“However, we strongly encourage individuals and businesses to continue to follow recommendations and remain vigilant.”

With this cautious optimism in mind, Long Beach city officials are more than happy to welcome the event back with no COVID-19 mandates.

“In 2020, the Grand Prix was one of the first major events in Long Beach that unfortunately had to be canceled due to the pandemic,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “Having it return last year and now to its original schedule is a huge testament to our continuing recovery from COVID-19.”

“It’s been an incredibly difficult two years,” he added, “but thanks to the success of our vaccination program, we’re excited to safely bring iconic events like the Grand Prix back to Long Beach.”

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.