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A four-sided handwashing station is one of the many health and safety precautions taken by Cheyenne Frontier Days leadership to combat the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the handwashing stations, adjustments have been made to decrease the exchange of personal items between individuals, such as limiting cash transactions and implementing digital ticketing. Photographed Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at Frontier Park. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Cheyenne Frontier Days’ top leadership wants those attending the 10-day event to be vaccinated.

In an op-ed published in late June in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, rodeo CEO Tom Hirsig and General Committee Chairman Jimmy Dean Siler urged those planning to attend the “Daddy of ‘em All” to consider receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before showing up.

Hirsig and Siler referenced the state and county’s rising numbers of cases, as well as the lower-than-average vaccination rates.

“The solution is the COVID vaccine,” they wrote. “Fully vaccinated people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are not required to quarantine. Bear in mind that children under the age of 12 may not be vaccinated. We want families to come to CFD in large numbers. Adult vaccinations are important to the safety of young visitors.”

Hirsig said in an interview that leadership had encouraged staff, volunteers and contractors – those most likely to spend long periods of time at Frontier Park – to get vaccinated.

Still, CFD organizers and local health officials know it isn’t realistic to expect all, or even most, attendees to be vaccinated. Frontier Days leadership and the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department have been working together, along with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, since the beginning of the year to put in place health and safety protocols related to the pandemic, health department Executive Director Kathy Emmons said.

These precautions include increased “around the clock” sanitization in all facilities, Hirsig said. Adjustments have been made to park policies to decrease the exchange of personal items between individuals, including limiting cash transactions, implementing digital ticketing and a clear bag policy, helping security personnel avoid digging through bags.

There will also be many hand-washing and sanitization stations throughout the park, Emmons said.

Mask wearing inside will be recommended, but not required, Hirsig said. Free masks will be made available throughout the park for anyone who wants to use them.

Hirsig wasn’t able to estimate how much had been spent on these precautions, but cost wasn’t something he was concerned about.

“It’s one of those things that the cost really doesn’t matter. You’ve got to have the stuff that’s recommended,” he said.

Frontier Days health precautions do not require vaccination against COVID-19, mask wearing or social distancing. Still, as of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to advise unvaccinated people to avoid crowds, use masks and social distance, or stay six feet away from people outside their household.

Emmons said she felt fortunate the health department had been able to work collaboratively with Frontier Days leadership, and that they had “really worked hard toward (putting) good safety practices in place.”

But with community transmission of the coronavirus still high, the risks can’t be mitigated completely with things like hand washing and scattershot mask wearing.

“I am, of course, concerned, because we’re going to have 150,000 people plus in Cheyenne, so that always concerns me when we have that large of an influx in town,” she said. “Now, if everybody was vaccinated, or those who weren’t vaccinated were wearing face masks when they need to, I would feel great. But we just don’t know what we’re going to have.”

Starting this week and for two weeks following Frontier Days, City-County Health will be offering free COVID-19 testing 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. There will also be on-site testing at Frontier Park through the Wyoming Department of Health.

“What we’re trying to do is to just be proactive and prepare for the potential that we would see an uptick in the community,” Emmons said. “At this point, I really don’t know what else we can do. ... We know the virus, we know the prevention, and now people just have to decide if they want to keep themselves and their family safe, or (if) they want to roll the dice and have a real strong chance of getting COVID.”

Data released by the state health department in late June showed that, of more than 2,400 lab-confirmed and probable cases identified among Wyoming residents 16 and older between May 1 and June 15, just under 95% reported not being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Of nearly 150 persons infected by COVID-19 who were hospitalized during the same time period, more than 93% reported not being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of this data release, there had been one COVID-19 related death of a fully vaccinated Wyoming resident.

This data is consistent with numbers from across the country, Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist, said at the time.

Like Emmons, Hirsig emphasized that people are certainly free to not take precautions against the virus, but it comes with risks.

“Our country is really founded on choice, right? Everybody has the right to make a choice for what they want to do, and to me, it’s very clear. The choices are: you can be vaccinated and be highly resilient to the COVID deal, or you can be part of herd immunity, which comes with some extensive risks,” Hirsig said. “Whatever you choose to do is up to you.”

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.

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