There has been a significant leap in positive cases of COVID-19 this week in the 10-county Lake Cumberland Health District. As cases continue to climb, the district health department released a statement as part of its Wednesday evening report that the department will no longer review event plans.
Over the last several weeks many area groups have asked us to review their plans for “community events” such as festivals, parades, firework shows, holiday events etc. Without fail, these groups share with us plans that align with the Governor’s guidance. Almost equally without fail these events fail to unfold as planned and consistent social distancing and masking does not take place. Therefore, the health department will no longer review these types of event plans. It will be the health department’s standing policy that we advise against any such social gathering. While we do not have the authority to prevent these types of events, we can no longer spend our time reviewing plans that consistently fail during execution. We will simply direct such “event planners” to the state’s guidance. Of course, we will continue to work with businesses, long-term care facilities, schools etc. to put together prevention and post-exposure COVID-19 plans.
Instead, the department says it will provide the guidance from the state and essentially have a standing policy that these events where there are large gatherings of people should not be occurring.
“We just can’t, in good conscience, say to the public that we think anything that encourages mass gatherings is a good idea right now,” Crabtree said. “Rather than reviewing plans right now and telling people that their plans align with the guidance, right now our position is you really shouldn’t be doing this.”
Lake Cumberland District Health Department Executive Director Shawn Crabtree said that the planning for the events has been well-done, but the execution has not, and said that is no fault of the event organizers. In fact, he said the organizers have done a thorough job of drawing up plans that adhere to public health guidelines.
“Without fail, the event planners do a fantastic job,” Crabtree said. “I want to be clear that it isn’t a planning issue. They do a great job of aligning their plans with the state guidance, and they do a good job in their promotional materials of letting people know what the guidelines are.”
However, it is difficult for these organizers and volunteers to enforce the guidelines and while Crabtree said many people who have attended such events have done everything they’ve been asked and done their best to follow the guidelines, a notable portion of people have not resulting in a lot of stress and strain on the health department.
“Inevitably, these events do not end up unfolding as they’re expected,” Crabtree said. “There are a lot of people at these events that try to comply and do their best to comply, but we have a segment of our population that just won’t. We see that whether it’s at the grocery store or convenience store or at one of these events.”
Crabtree said that following these events, the health department gets inundated with complaints from people as well as photos that show large crowds gathered together without masks, seemingly ignoring the public health guidelines.
“It’s obvious to us that despite everyone’s best efforts, it’s not going to go off like expected,” Crabtree said. “There will at least be some people who are significantly non-compliant. Taking that into account at a time when we are having our largest surge in our 10-county district, we just don’t think it’s the right thing to say that it’s a good idea to be around a bunch of people.”
With that surge in cases, which has included 239 new cases over the last three days, it’s “all hands on deck” at the district health department, especially in terms of contact tracing for new cases and other essential functions.
“Every employee is working hard right now, and to take time out of that to review plans that we know are ultimately not going to go off as planned, despite great effort from the organizers and volunteers, it isn’t a good idea,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree said the community leaders who have put together events have done a great job in organizing and planning, but as case numbers continue to rise, the health department is encouraging people to avoid large crowds, social distance, and wear a mask in public in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.