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Cheese Days is cancelled

By Kevin O’Brien

For the first time in over a half-century, Colby will not be hosting its annual Cheese Days in July The decision was made Monday after the Clark County Health Department’s lead public health nurse, Kelsey Wussow, sent an email to event organizers saying the county was “regretfully” recommending cancellation of the three-day event due to lingering concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you were to move forward with this event, we would not stop this from happening (at this time); however, because you would expect a mass amount of people, it would not be feasible to ensure safe social distancing (greater than six feet), which poses a very high risk of disease transmission,” Wussow wrote.

In the email addressed to city clerk Connie Gurtner, Wussow said the county health officer, Brittany Mews, has not yet issued any local orders regarding mass gatherings, and she doesn’t want to.

“However, I do want you to know that she could at any time,” Wussow wrote. “Even though the state’s Safer at Home order is gone, at a local level we can be more restrictive regarding guidelines

See CHEESE DAYS/ Page 6 and rules. Again, we do not want to do that.”

Wussow said the health department was following the advice of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which is discouraging large gatherings at this time based on the potential for continued spread of a disease that has already killed over 600 state residents.

By a vote of 11 to 7, members of the Cheese Days planning committee decided Monday to scrap the city’s signature summer event for 2020, which had been scheduled for July 17-19.

Gurtner said several factors led to the decision, including the health department’s recommendation and a steady drop-off in participating organizations.

“We were losing vendors one after another,” she said Tuesday.

The ATV pullers had already cancelled their Friday night event, and Zion Lutheran Church said it would not be selling cheese curds this year, she noted. The coordinator of Sunday’s parade had also stepped down.

In addition, she said the director of Colby High School’s marching band was reluctant to have students participating in the parade or running the cheese curd throwing contest on Sunday.

Organizers of the Jamison Kampmeyer Memorial Run on Saturday were hoping to hold a “virtual” 5K and 10K, but that wasn’t enough to keep the festival as a whole going.

Gurtner said organizers were worried about a major financial loss if attendance was significantly down due to the lack of vendors and activities.

“We all wanted to go ahead, but the deck was stacked against us,” she said.

According to an online questionnaire conducted by event organizers, 72 percent (489) of the 676 respondents said “yes” to the question of whether or not they planned on attending this year’s Cheese Days. Nineteen percent (129) said they would not be attending due COVID- 19 concerns, and another 58 people (8.6 percent) said they were not attending due to “other reasons.”

Respondents were also asked about their comfort level regarding certain activities, such as riding on carnival rides, watching the parade or attending a music event with a large crowd. More than 65 percent of respondents (404) said they would be “comfortable attending all activities that I have in the past.”

Individual activities fared worse on the comfort level question, however, with less than a third of respondents saying they were OK participating or watching any of the seven specified activities.

Three-quarters of the respondents (503) said they would feel more comfortable about attending if extra hand-washing and sanitization stations were added.

Just under 600 people answered a question directed at food stand or event organizers who were asked if they would have trouble finding people willing to help due to COVID-19. About two-thirds (406) said they did not feel that would be an issue.

One of the options organizers were considering was a condensed one-night event. Of the 649 people who weighed in on that option, 59 percent said they would support a one-night event if the alternative was cancellation, while 41 percent took an all-or-nothing approach.

However, that idea also met with opposition from the health department, acording to the email from Wussow.

“We would not recommend going that route, as that would encourage a larger group of people to get together at the same time,” she wrote. “That option would almost be ‘worse’ than having the normal three-day event.”