State's biggest rodeos succumb to pandemic

Hulett Rodeo to proceed


June 4, 2020

As Wyoming’s number of COVID-19 cases passed the 700 mark this week, the fate of the state’s biggest summer events was revealed. Organizers announced that rodeos including Cheyenne Frontier Days, Laramie Jubilee Days and the Central Wyoming Fair will all be cancelled for 2020.

“In my soul, I know how important those events are to Wyoming and to our citizens,” said Governor Mark Gordon, visibly emotional as he announced the cancellations during a press conference.

Discussions have been ongoing as to the state’s rodeos, he said, and no solutions could be found to the challenges of hosting big events during a pandemic. It was determined that it would not be possible to host the rodeos in a way that would be safe and responsible while still making financial sense, he said.

“I don’t think anyone up here wants to be saying the things we need to say today,” he said, as various event organizers stood behind him.

Tom Hirsig, President and CEO of Cheyenne Frontier Days, echoed that organizers feel the health of volunteers as well as visitors is not something they wish to risk, and thanked Gordon for all that was done to try to make the events happen.

“The state has not forced these cancellations. This was a difficult conversation between all of us up here,” said Gordon, stressing that the decision was not made via a state health order.

COVID-19 sucks, he said, and while, “Some think it’s no big deal, others are worried sick. The fact is, we need both groups to attend our rodeos and feel safe.”

Small Events

Changes to state orders did make it possible for smaller gatherings, such as the Hulett Rodeo, to take place, however. As of this week, up to 250 people can now be in attendance at outdoor gatherings, with social distancing measures required.

The order applies to everything from weddings and graduations to sporting events, smaller rodeos and farmer’s markets, Gordon said.

“This is good for our communities and our economy,” he said, adding that Wyoming is still relying on its citizen to exercise good judgment.

State health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist agreed that, “We do have more choices now, and that’s a good thing.” However, she cautioned citizens to remember those who are more vulnerable and asked anyone who lives or works with someone at greater risk from COVID-19 to please “seriously consider the potential consequences” of taking part in larger events.

Death Count

Harrist warned during the most recent state press conference that the outbreaks seen recently in Wyoming’s nursing homes demonstrate how simple it is for an outbreak to start, but how devastating the effects can be.

Five more deaths have been added to Wyoming’s tally over the last week, bringing the total to 17. Three of those deaths came from long term care facilities, two in Natrona County and one in Natrona County.

The two remaining deaths both took place in Fremont County, the first a resident with health conditions that put her at a higher risk of severe disease in connection with COVID-19. The fifth person to die from the coronavirus this week, however, did not have any known conditions that would have put her at higher risk.

Local Response

The Crook County Emergency Operations Center has downgraded to an inactive status because no active or probable cases have been identified here since April 19. The operational structure will, however, remain in place in case active cases crop up.

At this time, the only position still fully functional is Public Information Officer Melanie Wilmer.

While operational, for the last 2.5 months the EOC has been staffed with up to nine personnel, including representatives from Crook County Public Health, Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office, Fire, Moorcroft Fire and other volunteers, working up to 12 hours each day until May. At that time, staff numbers dropped to three or four and hours were lowered to eight.

In a press release, EOC staff listed accomplishments during this time including ordering and receiving 950 N95 masks, 400 gloves, 1300 surgical masks, 74 face shields, 280 gowns and 200 3D printed masks made by PRECorp. The majority of this personal protective equipment (PPE) was distributed to the hospital, clinic, EMS and law enforcement.

The EOC also distributed over 60 gallons of Wyoming distillery produced hand sanitizer. A daily incident action plan was created, which later went to a weeklong operational period plan.

Along with County Attorney Joe Baron and County Health Officer James Larsen, the Incident Management Team created countywide variances to state health orders. The public information section was involved with the state joint information system led by the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and created a dedicated Facebook page, phone line and email.

Keep Testing

Harrist has asked citizens to please call your provider if you have any potential symptoms of COVID-19. Decisions about whether to test are being made by local healthcare professionals, she said.

“No-one should avoid testing out of fear. Knowing what’s going on in Wyoming is good for all of us,” Harrist said.

Harrist also issued a reminder that there are still no broad applications for antibody testing and scientists still do not know if antibodies can protect against getting infected again or, if they can, how long that protection will last.

“I’m concerned that people are looking for a golden ticket and unfortunately it is not yet available,” she said.

Referring to an inflammatory disease that has been seen in some places in children who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, Harrist stated that “this appears to be a rare but serious syndrome,” but thankfully not one that has yet been seen in Wyoming.


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