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Let's get ready to rodeo, Cheyenne! (But as safely as possible)

From the April 18 Wyoming Tribune Eagle

In just under 100 days, the capital city will once again welcome thousands of people to Cheyenne Frontier Days, the “world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration.”

And when July 23 arrives, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it will have been 726 days since Championship Sunday wrapped up the last “Daddy of ‘em All” on July 28, 2019. It also will mark the start of the 125th anniversary event (unfortunately, we can no longer call it the “annual” Cheyenne Frontier Days, because we skipped a year).

It will be a time for celebrating our Western roots, toasting our resilience through challenging times and, hopefully, rejoicing in the gradual return to life as we knew it before the novel coronavirus upended our lives in March 2020.

But what we can’t let it be is a “superspreader event” – 10 days of fun that triggers a new wave of hospitalizations and pandemic shutdowns. Which means, as much as we want this year’s CFD to feel like ones we’ve experienced before, we need to be careful. And that starts with being willing to wear a mask, if needed, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our visitors, who will be here to enjoy top-notch rodeo action, good music, parades and pancake breakfasts, not contract a potentially deadly virus.

During their recent news conference to announce that the event will, in fact, happen this year, CFD officials promised extra precautions will be taken to keep everyone healthy. They include:

All areas of Frontier Park and the Park-n-Ride will be cleaned and sanitized regularly with a disinfectant proven to kill 99.9% of bacteria/viruses

All event tickets and parking passes for Frontier Park will be digital to allow for touchless scanning from mobile devices

Cashless payments, including debit and credit cards, will be taken in more locations at Frontier Park

Guests are encouraged to bring only necessary items into Frontier Park in a clear bag to limit contact with personal items at security entry points

All guests, volunteers, competitors and performers are encouraged to wash their hands several times throughout the day, and use the hand sanitizing dispensers placed throughout Frontier Park.

All guests, volunteers, competitors and performers are encouraged to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing with a sleeve or a tissue, and then disposing of the tissue properly, and sanitizing hands immediately afterward.

All of those things are great, of course, and we hope everyone follows through on them. But look at that list again. Are these folks focused on the right things, or does this seem more like “safety and security theater” – some things to make you feel like you’re being protected when, in fact, it’s really not addressing the main potential problem?

Before we go any further, we want to give CFD CEO Tom Hirsig, General Chairman Jimmy Dean Siler and the rest of the volunteer committee members credit for spending a lot of time thinking things through, analyzing the Frontier Park layout and considering whether it would be safe to hold an event this summer. (Frankly, we were surprised they completely canceled last year. We figured if there was one thing that would happen – pandemic be damned – it would be Frontier Days, at least in some limited fashion.)

So before we offer a word of caution, we give a genuine tip of the hat to CFD officials and Gov. Mark Gordon for making the difficult decision last year to forego the event – and the money that comes with it – to protect our community. Yes, we all suffered in one way or another by not having Frontier Days in 2020. But we also can take pride in the fact that we didn’t make things worse by allowing up to 200,000 people to gather from all over the country and, potentially, the world. (See news coverage of last summer’s Sturgis motorcycle rally for a reminder of what could have happened here.)

But as we analyze the list of “safety protocols” designed to protect patrons, we see a lot of things designed to remove a virus from surfaces and not much else. Yet we all know by now that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily through droplets coming from people’s mouths and noses.

It might not be enough to just ask people to cough or sneeze into their sleeve or a tissue. What about people drinking beer and standing shoulder to shoulder in the Party Zone in front of the Frontier Nights stage? Do you really think that’s a good idea without face coverings?

And what about squeezing through a crowded exhibit hall between people up visiting from California, New York or some overseas country where COVID-19 variants are running rampant? Even having been vaccinated, will you feel safe?

Those who have criticized us for being too cautious throughout the pandemic have no doubt thrown up their hands the way a tie-down roper finishes their run and said, “There they go again.” And listen, we get it. We don’t want to wear a mask at Frontier Park any more than you do.

But if CFD officials want as many people to attend as possible, they need to send a strong message that the public’s health is their top priority. (The state already has a masked-up cowboy logo that would work perfectly before and during the event.)

Unfortunately, we might need to endure a little more discomfort to keep Cheyenne from being known for more than broncs, bulls and bravery. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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