MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCSC) - A rodeo held last week on public property in Berkeley County drew large crowds, raising questions over how such an event was able to take place in the midst of a pandemic.
Janet Cox said she was looking forward to attending the 2020 Moncks Corner Pro Rodeo but could not believe what she saw when she arrived.
“The whole experience was clouded by the lack of mask-wearing,” said Cox. “We were just packed in there like sardines.”
The event took place outside on Oct. 2 and 3 at the county-owned fairgrounds off Rembert C. Dennis Boulevard.
Although Moncks Corner Town Administrator Jeff Lord said that there was signage encouraging masks and social distancing, photos from both days of the rodeo show crowded bleachers with few attendees wearing masks.
“It was not possible to socially distance,” said Cox. “The bleachers were packed. People were hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder.”
After viewing one of the pictures, Charleston-based infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Ball said that it “shows stunningly irresponsible misbehavior among participants and organizers.”
“This kind of unmasked crowded behavior demonstrates the misbehavior of folks who either don’t care about their health or others' health, or don’t believe in public health science, or both,” said Ball.
The rodeo’s website said that there would be a limited number of tickets this year due to COVID-19, though a Facebook post published the day before the rodeo’s first night mentioned that there would be 1,000 more tickets sold at the gates.
“Berkeley County only rents the space to the rodeo organizers,” said Berkeley County spokesperson Jenna-Ley Jamison in response to questions about event precautions and the county’s role in the rodeo. “The county has nothing to do with the planning of the event.”
While neither Moncks Corner nor Berkeley County currently have mask ordinances in place, Lord said that the event exemption the rodeo received from the South Carolina Department of Commerce “required the event host to be able to comply with social distancing guidelines and best practices issued by the CDC.”
Events with more than 250 attendees currently must receive approval from the Department of Commerce in order to proceed.
Alex Clark, a spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, said that “the event approval was based on the applicant’s outlined ability to adhere to applicable sanitation, social distancing and hygiene guidelines from CDC, DHEC and any other state/federal public health officials. Face coverings are included in these guidelines and strongly encouraged per the executive order.”
The applicant for the rodeo’s exemption confirmed “yes” under “social distancing in place” and “masks required” in advance of the event, according to Clark. Lord said that the exemption “holds the event host responsible for compliance with the representations they made in their application.”
The exemption application also says that local law enforcement and the State Law Enforcement Division have the authority to break up large groups should they pose a public health hazard.
A special event application submitted to Moncks Corner’s municipal government listed Robert Dehay as the event organizer, while the Department of Commerce confirmed that the exemption application was filed by Marty Housand.
Multiple requests for comment from Live 5 News to the event organizers have not yet been returned.
Two off-duty officers from the Moncks Corner Police Department were employed by the rodeo to provide security at the event, according to Lt. Steve Meadows. However, Meadows said that the agency did not receive any coronavirus-related complaints.
It’s unclear who, if anyone, is at these approved large events statewide to enforce the COVID precautions promised on event applications.
In addition to the event being promoted on the Berkeley County website, a Facebook Live video posted on the rodeo’s Facebook page showed Miss Rodeo USA visiting Berkeley Middle School and promoting the event during lunchtime, despite the Berkeley County School District currently having a ban on visitors due to the pandemic.
“This was not a district authorized visit,” BCSD spokesperson Katie Tanner said. “This matter is being addressed at the appropriate level.”
The video has since been removed from the rodeo’s Facebook page.
“Any time individuals refrain from wearing masks and socially distancing and they choose to take part in large group gatherings, disease transmission is likely,” said South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesperson Laura Renwick.
“Even those without symptoms can spread the virus and mass events increase the risk that more people could be exposed. This is why it’s essential for event planners to allow for adequate distancing between attendees and encourage mask wearing and for attendees to take responsibility to ensure they practice those actions themselves,” Renwick added.
DHEC says that they encourage attendees of large gatherings to get tested for COVID-19.
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