Public Health Officer Issues Statement Regarding Upcoming Birkie Event
The Sawyer County Health Department is fielding an increasing number of calls from local residents who are concerned about the potential negative impacts of hosting a large international event in our rural county during a global pandemic.
We share many of those concerns, however, in Wisconsin, both local and state health officials have limited power to maintain and enforce public health orders. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Sawyer County Public Health has consistently advised these safety measures:
· Stay home as much as possible
· Minimize exposure to those not in your household
· Maintain a safe social distance from others
· Wear a mask in public spaces
Those recommendations have not changed. While Sawyer County’s COVID infection rate is considerably reduced from the highest levels seen in November, the county continues to be categorized in the highest risk level.
During the pandemic thousands of visitors have and will continue to visit Sawyer County to enjoy its many outdoor amenities. Sawyer County Public Health is committed to working with citizens, businesses and schools to safely balance the physical, psychological and economic health needs of this community.
We have met with Birkie staff to discuss concerns. Their plans eliminate gatherings in enclosed spaces and minimize person-to-person contact. In-person participation is currently 5,000 participants over five days, compared to more than 10,000 over two days in a normal year. There is no busing, no in-person bib pick up, no Birkie Expo. The race begins and ends in Bayfield County. Racers will be distanced in far smaller waves than in the past. There are virtual options for participants who choose not to travel. Birkie reports that every day more participants are switching to virtual options and many are only traveling here for the day. For a full explanation of this year’s changes, please consult birkie.com and address further concerns directly to them.
Based on their plans, these are our recommendations:
· Local residents not directly involved with the event: Limit your travel to public spaces and continue to follow recommended safety guidelines.
· Local workers and businesses: Follow masking recommendations and WEDC guidance. Offer curbside and carry out options to minimize contact.
· Those who host guests in their homes: Minimize contact, socially distance and wear masks when indoors.
· Participants: Choose a virtual option, if possible. Visitors should be aware that the community’s adherence to mask wearing is not universal and Sawyer County’s 7-day average daily case rate of 45 cases per 100,000 is more than double that of metropolitan areas such as the Twin Cities or Madison.
Now that vaccines are available, our focus must be on getting our citizens vaccinated as quickly as possible. Nearly 27 percent of our population is over 65, the most vulnerable age group for complications from the virus. Currently, demand for the vaccine far outpaces supply, but plans are in place to ramp up as soon as supplies increase.
Julia Lyons, RN, BSN
Sawyer County Public Health Officer