Saturday, September 19, 2020

Fair concert and rodeo not worth the risk

| August 9, 2020 1:00 AM

Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo officials last week decided to cancel this year’s carnival portion of the fair “for the health of our community” and fair workers. While probably an unpopular decision with some in the community, it was the right one to make.

Dozens of new COVID-19 cases are being reported every day in Flathead County, and the seven-day average of active cases has shown no signs of hitting a plateau. As of Friday, the county had the third highest tally of active virus cases in Montana, behind only Yellowstone and Big Horn counties. What’s more, Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit has been steadily at or near its capacity.

Holding the fair carnival under these circumstances would have been nothing short of reckless.

But we have to wonder: If the carnival is too risky, why continue with the concert and rodeo? These two attractions — which draw thousands of attendees — hold all of the ingredients of a so-called “super spreader” event, just days before local students head back to class.

An outbreak in our local schools would set off a devastating domino effect that no family or local business wants to endure. Imagine students reverting back to full-time remote learning, and working parents once again having to choose between career and home obligations. And that’s not to mention the real possibility that someone could become gravely ill due to amplified community spread of the virus by fair attendees.

It’s just not worth it — and the vast majority of local health-care experts agree. Today’s Montana Perspectives page includes a letter from more than 300 doctors and nurses imploring the Fair Board to scale back its attractions. Peruse the long list of signatures and you’re certain to find a physician or nurse who has taken care of you — who you trust with your own health.

How can fair officials brush this letter aside? Shouldn’t we heed the warnings of local health experts who have dedicated their careers, and in many cases risked their own well-being, for the health of the whole community?

We also have to wonder why Flathead is the only county in Montana that has not canceled its fair altogether or deeply scaled back its attractions. Lake County, for example, made the decision last month to hold only 4-H events and its stock sale. By all accounts, the Lake County fair was a success, given the circumstances.

Flathead County should follow suit, as the 4-H aspects of the fair could still occur safely with enough preparation. The fair’s “Be a Fair Champion” campaign — requiring masks, setting social distancing guidelines and encouraging frequent hand sanitizing — has set the groundwork that could allow these important 4-H events to happen.

Certainly, the fair and rodeo’s long tradition and sentimental value shouldn’t be minimized. For many families it’s a highlight of the summer and a place where memories are born.

But in 2020, amid a pandemic that continues to threaten the health and economic well-being of everyone, the risk of continuing forward with the concert and rodeo is simply not worth the reward of a few nights of entertainment.