It’s been a long time coming, but now it’s just around the corner. After last year’s first-ever cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days, the 125th anniversary “Daddy of ‘em All” got underway Wednesday morning with rodeo qualifying events at Frontier Park.

For those who’ve never been in the capital city during the last full week in July, it’s an exciting time — a time to celebrate our Western heritage, a time to engage in beloved traditions, a time to show visitors how welcoming we are, and a time to celebrate the generations who have come before us to create the tradition known as “the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and authentic Western celebration.”

It’s also a time to let down our hair, kick up our heels and have some fun. But this year, it also needs to come with a bit of caution and some extra awareness.

We know, “Stop raining on our parade, ya party poopers!” Believe us when we say we wish we didn’t have to keep writing about COVID-19. We wish we could stop logging on to the state Department of Health website every weekday to see whether case numbers are up or down and how many people are hospitalized with coronavirus at that point. We wish we could retire the purple and red virus logos that have filled our pages for the past 16 months.

But the unfortunate reality is, the pandemic isn’t over. In fact, with vaccination numbers barely topping 33% statewide and the delta variant running rampant here and across the country, we’re as concerned as ever that the freedom from mask wearing we’ve enjoyed these past few months might not last.

Which is why as we prepare to gather with our friends, neighbors and visitors from across the country and around the world over the next couple of weeks, many of us are planning to dust them off, put them back on when in tight quarters and pray for the best outcome possible.

Think our concern is unwarranted? Let’s look at the facts:

On Wednesday, Laramie County had 299 active cases of COVID-19, an increase of 34 from the previous day. That was more than 46% of the statewide total of 644 active cases, which was up 87 from the day before.

Of the 61 people hospitalized statewide as of Thursday due to the coronavirus, 34 were here in Cheyenne (30 at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and four at the VA Medical Center).

Last Monday, the Wyoming Department of Health announced that four more Laramie County residents — and nine statewide — had died from COVID-19. And since vaccination rates are much higher among senior citizens and those who are most vulnerable, it’s not all elderly people who are succumbing to the virus. And the four from Laramie County were “not known to have conditions associated with higher risk of severe illness,” according to the health department.

Nationwide, the COVID-19 curve in the U.S. is rising again, with the number of new cases doubling over the past three weeks. In addition to low vaccination rates (55.6% of Americans have received at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Fourth of July gatherings are being blamed, in part, for the increase.

All of this points to the potential for case spikes, more hospitalizations and, worst of all, more deaths as we prepare for an influx of 200,000 or more visitors to the capital city.

Does that mean this whole thing is a big mistake? We certainly hope not. We’re as excited as everyone else to enjoy rodeos, pancake breakfasts, grand parades, Indian Village pageantry, the USAF Thunderbirds and more. We can’t wait for cool summer nights under the stars and lights as Garth Brooks, Ned LeDoux, Maren Morris, the Professional Bull Riders and others entertain us.

And, not to be too crass or blatantly capitalistic about it, but we’re also looking forward to the influx of cash that comes with all of those visitors. Many of our small businesses have struggled to survive without “Cowboy Christmas,” and the return of Frontier Days could be a shot in the arm nearly as important as the one (or two) containing the vaccine.

So, with all that said, we have a favor to ask: Please, please, PLEASE, do your part to keep everyone safe during next two weeks (and beyond, of course). If you’re not vaccinated (or even if you are), pretend you’re a train robber and wear a mask. Wash your hands or sanitize often, maintain social distance whenever possible, and, should you choose not to do any of these things, be respectful toward those who are.

And before we break out the boots and hats, let’s address one more issue. For many of us, it’s been two full years since we’ve been around crowds of people. That’s 24 months without standing in line in the heat, waiting for a bag check, or dealing with cars more than four deep at a traffic light. Be patient, be considerate to one another, and let’s keep “rodeo rage” from becoming a thing.

Have a wonderful, safe Cheyenne Frontier Days, everyone!

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

July 18

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