‘Cancel the concert?’: Jackson County official worried about COVID at Garth Brooks show

·4 min read

Garth Brooks will take the stage at a sold-out Arrowhead Stadium in just four days, despite concerns over the spread of the delta variant across the Kansas City metro area and questions about whether the show should be canceled altogether.

“I was sitting here thinking that—why don’t we just cancel the concert? We might save 10 [thousand] to 15,000 lives there, I don’t know,” Jackson County Legislator Ron Finley said in a meeting Monday.

The Jackson County legislature, however, cannot make that decision. Kansas City has jurisdiction over the event, Mariah Cox, a spokesperson for the Jackson County Health Department, wrote in an email.

In the meeting on Monday, Finley asked whether there were any health measures the governing body could institute for the concert since they “can’t force people to take care of themselves.” He expressed concerns over slowing the spread of the virus as COVID cases in the area continue to rise.

Finley offered suggestions such as temperature checks, providing masks at the concert for guests and encouraging residents to get tested for COVID-19 before the event.

“I wanted to make those suggestions because clearly this is out of control,” Finley said. “And I appreciate the cooperation of the staff and administration but we need to step up our efforts somehow it occurs to me. If there’s any feasible legal way to do that.”

The new Kansas City mask mandate, which went into effect on Monday, doesn’t apply to outdoor spaces. Maggie Green, a spokesperson for the city, said that in regards to the concert they continue to rely on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the local health department, which only call for mask requirements for indoor spaces.

“We strongly encourage anyone who has not yet been vaccinated or who may be at heightened risk for contracting COVID-19 to consider wearing a mask any time they are in a public setting, and to regularly test for COVID-19,” Green wrote in an email.

Local health officials have also noted the risks of going to the Garth Brooks concert.

During the University of Kansas Health System’s medical briefing on Monday, Steve Stites, chief medical officer, said that he would personally use a mask regardless of vaccination status even if the event is outdoors. He said also he would take into consideration there will be a lot of people there singing out loud.

On Tuesday, the Kansas City metro area, encompassing Kansas City and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, reported 12 COVID-related deaths. The area has also seen the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases reach levels not seen since early November last year.

Emergency rooms in the area are overwhelmed as local hospitals continue to deal with the high volume of COVID patients and hospitalizations. They’ve even started asking people not to go to the ER unless they have a true emergency.

Kansas City hospitals have been admitting significantly more COVID patients over the last couple of weeks, with some, including Saint Luke’s Health System, doubling the number from June to July. Several hospitals haven’t seen numbers this high since the last wave of infections at the beginning of the year.

Hospital officials say the majority of new COVID patients are younger, sicker and not vaccinated.

Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the health system, said, however, that the fact that the concert is outdoors shouldn’t be downplayed as that can reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“We do understand there will be a lot of people there,” Hawkinson said. “However, it will be outdoors. People are still welcome to mask, if they take their own risk evaluation and risk assessment into that.”

Hawkinson said guests who are going should weigh their own health risks and take into account that they will be around a lot of people with unknown vaccination status. He said that the best strategy to stay safe continues to be vaccination.

Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted over the weekend, during a Gucci Mane concert at the Liberty Memorial, that the Kansas City Health Department plans to operate a mobile vaccination clinic at Arrowhead before the Garth Brooks concert. People who get vaccinated at the concert will be entered into a raffle to win a seat upgrade, Lucas said on Twitter.

Garth Brooks mentioned the Kansas City concert during his weekly Inside Studio G Facebook live on Monday. He asked his audience to follow all the rules and echoed the mask wearing sentiment since, “it’s getting real sticky out there.”

“Make your own rules up too,” Brooks said. “You can’t be safe enough. You can’t be cautious enough. Keep your space. Keep your distance.”

Brooks told his audience not to be afraid of wearing masks at the concert. Before every show Brooks plays a video asking guests to be respectful about masks.

“Nobody is going to look at you strange, I promise.” Brooks said. “Wear your mask. Paint a G on it. Do whatever you want to do. Let’s make it fun.”

The Star’s Lisa Gutierrez contributed to this story.

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