Labor Day events a maybe this year

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Beaverhead County’s Labor Day events are tentatively moving forward, though organizers are keeping close eye on the spread of the corona-virus in Montana.

County fair board members and Dillon Jaycees representatives discussed the possibilities with the public health board Friday.

This year’s Labor Day events would stretch from Sept. 4-7, if organizers can find a safe way to hold the fair, rodeo and concert within social distancing and disinfection guidelines to reduce the chances of coronavirus spread. How they would manage that - as the events need spectators to be profitable - is an open question.

“As a board, we’re still going forward unless something changes,” Beaverhead County Fair Board member Pete Hansen said. “We expect the concert to be canceled, but that’s up to the Jaycees.”

The livestock sale will be virtual this year.

Jason Schumacher of the Jaycees told the health board they must make a firm decision no later than 30 days before the event. Tickets do not begin sales until the end of July, giving them a bit of leeway.

“It’s not financially feasible for us to have a fan-less event,” Schumacher said. “This is economically important to Dillon - if we have to cancel that weekend it will be huge.”

There are other fairs being held around Montana and in neighboring states, and Public Health Director Sue Hansen suggested seeing how they manage it. Health Officer Dr. Megan Evans pointed to the “Go Forward” guidebook put out by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions to help inform ways to hold events and protect everyone attending or working them.

Sue Hansen said she worries how the local public health department - made up of three people - would manage contact tracing if an outbreak erupted from thousands of people converging on Dillon.

“It’s people who don’t know they have the virus and are comfortable going out - that’s our worry,” she said.

The public health board approved the fair board’s plans to hold a roping event July 3-5. Those plans limit space between trailers and contestants and ensure food and drink are being consumed away from the concessions area. There will be hand sanitizer available, the bathrooms will be open to allow extra hand washing availability, and congregation of participants will be limited. The plans are similar to how other roping events were held in Montana, Pete Hansen said.

“The contestants have been at other ropings, so they know the protocols already,” Sue Hansen added.

The health board also discussed options for increased testing in the county. Sue Hansen said the state of Montana is moving toward surveillance testing in tourist communities, and Beaverhead County is one of those. But information on how that would take place has not come from the state as of yet.

The next public health board meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 26.