Oneida County allows Hodag Country Fest to move forward despite COVID-19 risks
By Ben Meyer/WXPR
Despite concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oneida County Public Safety Committee granted a large assembly permit for the Hodag Country Festival to go forward this year.
The decision was made by a 4-1 vote of the committee on Tuesday afternoon. It mandates a 25-point safety plan put forward by event organizers, which includes a limit of 16,000 people per weekend day on the grounds.
The country music event, which draws tens of thousands of people to Rhinelander, is scheduled for July 9 through 12. The 2020 event is scheduled to be the 43rd annual festival.
“While we really want to hold the event and help out the Northwoods economy, we also need to ensure that we will be able to hold the festival next year and the year after that by not taking an unmanageable financial hit this year,” said Dawn Eckert, an officer with the Hodag Country Festival.
Oneida County Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond indicated the county got about 100 public-comment emails on whether to hold the event this year. He said about two-thirds were against hosting the festival and one-third were in favor. All members of the public who commented during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting voiced concerns.
“Think of our children and the 40% elderly [population] that live here, and the 200-bed capacity that we have, and eight ventilators,” said Mark Adams, who lives in Lake Tomahawk.
On May 15, Oneida County Health Officer Linda Conlon issued guidance after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home order. Among other items, Conlon’s guidance called for outdoor gatherings of no more than 50 people. However, Conlon’s directive is simply a set of guidelines and is not enforceable. The guidelines can also change based on the county’s recovery from the virus.
Current Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines “[do] not advise large gatherings, and there is no projected timeframe available as to when this advisory would change.”
On Tuesday, Oneida County reported its eighth case of COVID-19. The person is in their 30s, has no history of travel, and no known contact with someone who has previously tested positive for COVID-19. The person was tested at a recent Wisconsin National Guard Community Testing event.