The pre-eminent health care organization in a COVID-19 hotspot is sponsoring an indoor country and western concert that will not require masks and has not yet decided whether it will impose social distancing.
And the nonprofit Sanford Health of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is presenting the Oct. 24 event in conjunction with the state’s governor, Kristi Noem.
She endorsed the Sturgis motorcycle rally last month, where nearly half a million people gathered, largely without masks or social distancing, for 10 days before returning home, which a report by a team of economists with the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at San Diego State University estimates to have resulted in more than 260,000 COVID-19 cases. She will now be hosting the annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunt, which this year will include a musical event.
With regard to attendance and therefore likely infections, the Chris Young concert Noem and Sanford are putting on in Sioux Falls is a relatively small affair, expected to draw about 5,000 people.
But the concert dwarfs the rally in terms of hypocrisy. The Sturgis gathering was not sponsored by a health care organization that follows the established CDC precautions at its 46 medical centers, 210 clinics, 233 senior living centers, and 158 rehab facilities, as well as its research centers and the lab that handles much of the coronavirus testing in the region. Sanford Health’s website urges everybody to do the same.
“If you have to go to the grocery store, pharmacy or anywhere else where social distancing is tough, the CDC now recommends wearing a mask,” the Sanford Health website notes. “They’re now recommended for anyone in public settings where staying 6 feet away from others is more difficult, especially where significant community spread is occurring.”
Sanford Health also advises people to observe social distancing, which it says includes “maintaining distance—at least 6 feet—from others in both indoor and outdoor spaces” and “avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”
In an added twist, the indoor space where as many as 5,000 people will be gathering with no mask requirement and no guarantee of social distancing is named after T. Denny Sanford. That is the same billionaire philanthropist who poured more than $1 billion into the health care outfit that also bears his name.
He may not be aware that his name is doubly connected to what the seating chart suggests could be a superspreading event. The upper decks are closed, technically limiting the crowd to 50 percent capacity. But several of the open sections are already all but filled. Only one ticket is available in a section with 514 seats.
Denny Sanford has his own troubles in the form of a search warrant for child pornography that was executed at his home last month. The investigation originated with state authorities but has since gone federal. Sanford’s lawyer, Marty Jackley, told The Daily Beast that investigators had not found anything that would support criminal charges, and there has been no further word.
However that ends, Denny Sanford cannot be held responsible for this concert, which amounts to madness in the midst of a pandemic. The blame for that falls primarily on Sanford Health, along with Noem and Chris Young, a country star whose recent songs include “If That Ain’t God.” Neither Sanford Health nor Young could be reached for comment.
Back in May, Young canceled a series of four concerts, saying safety was his first concern. He suggested he might not start playing shows for live audiences again until next year.
“If that’s what we need to do to keep people safe,” the singer told Country Now. “Not just my fans at shows, but the people that work with me, who are my road family. I don’t wanna put them in any situation where their safety’s at risk.”
But he will be doing exactly that, appearing a star attraction in Noem’s effort to make the annual hunt “bigger and better than ever before.”
“We’re excited to welcome Chris Young back to South Dakota to headline the concert,” Noem said in a statement. “I hope folks from across the state can join us for the event and help us celebrate the things that make South Dakota such a special place.”
If Noem is one of those deluded souls who actually imagines COVID-19 is not worse than the flu, she has stubbornly held onto that notion even as South Dakota became a virus hotspot and once-ravaged New York proved that the standard precautions work.
Sanford Health has no excuse, as its 1,446 doctors and 8,502 registered nurses are on the front lines. A press release nonetheless quotes Paul Hanson, CEO of its Sioux Falls division, as saying Sanford Health is “honored to play a role” in the concert and the accompanying event.
In sponsoring a possible super-spreading concert, Sanford Health is betraying the spirit of one bit of music with which it can be rightly proud to be associated. The song “Hold Me Now,” about the courage of those who face the deadly virus, was written by a Sanford Health employee.
“By day, Chris Hames manages guest services, valet services, and volunteer services at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota,” the Sanford Health website reports of the songwriter. “By night? He’s an accordionist for a rock polka band.”
The site further notes, “While the song was produced, the band was following Sanford Health and CDC recommendations by social distancing. Meaning, none of them were together.”
Hames dedicated the song to health care workers.
“We’re called to hold and care for the sick,” the site quotes him as saying. “Called to hold and care for the families of the sick, and to be brave even when we’re experiencing the same fear that the rest of the world is feeling.”
The accompanying video offers images of Sanford Health doctors and nurses on the front line as the lyrics tell of a courageous battle.
“Hold me now….
You’ve got to be brave for the ones who may fall…
Cry for the lost and the ones that remain…
Hold me now…
It’s you and me and we’re holding the line…
You’ve given your all, but it don’t seem enough…
One day we’ll look back, but now we must fight…”
So if you were thinking of going to the concert, just skip it and watch the video from your home, where you are safe and will endanger nobody else.
Anybody in the Sioux Falls region who does catch COVID-19 at the Sanford Arena show hosted by Sanford Health can get tested at a Sanford lab and seek help at one of the Sanford hospitals.