Whoever that masked man was, he was not in the rodeo arena
COTTONWOOD, California––There are sound epidemiological arguments against outdoor mask-wearing to fight the spread of COVID-19, and in favor of getting more people out into the spring sunshine, but those arguments were not much in evidence at the 58th annual Mother’s Day Rodeo at the Bobby Jones Arena in Cottonwood, Shasta County, California.
There were, however, many vehement declarations made to incredulous media about the rodeo being held and heavily attended because of “God-given rights.”
There were also many statements of support for U.S. President Donald Trump, who won 65.6% of the vote in Shasta County in 2016, while polling just 33.2% in California overall.
Spotlight on illness, not the pathology
The partially televised rodeo shocked the world on May 10, 2020. Yet the shock was not because of the violence toward cattle and horses that should shock every rodeo viewer––especially those who know that jerking down calves with lassos, “bulldogging” steers, and bucking contests bear no resemblance to anything that was ever actually part of working ranch life.
Rather, TV audiences––including California governor Gavin Newsom––were shocked because the rodeo was held in open defiance of a March 19, 2020 stay-at-home order.
Few if any of the 2,000 Cottonwood rodeo attendees wore masks against possible COVID-19 coronavirus exposure, observed “social distancing” guidelines, or otherwise evidenced concern about the pandemic, which had already killed 82,000 Americans.
Reported Karen Alvarez of KHSL-TV Action News Now, in Chico, California, “A sign posted outside the rodeo ground before entering asked people to practice safety precautions. Throughout the rodeo grounds, there were multiple handwashing stations, people brought their own alcohol, and there were multiple food trucks. And of course, rodeo events went on as planned.”
The rodeo might have cost all 180,000 residents of Shasta County several more weeks in lockdown, but late on May 12, 2020 the county announced that many categories of business will be allowed to reopen, if they strictly observe rules meant to protect public health.
Cottonwood, a town of about 3,000 people, is mostly just a cluster of gas stations, fast food franchises, and budget motels flanking the I-5 interstate freeway, about halfway between the small cities of Red Bluff and Redding, north of Sacramento.
The Bobby Jones Arena, in July 2018, was briefly noted by Reuters reporter Alexandria Sage as the holding facility for stranded horses and other livestock rescued from the regionally devastating Carr Fire by local volunteers led by retired U.S. Marine-turned-tractor-equipment-salesman Tucker Zimmerman.
But the Mother’s Day rodeo quickly dissipated any lingering positive image that the arena and Cottonwood might have had, even locally.
“Officials slammed the event”
“Shasta County Public Health officials slammed the event — which apparently also drew the attention of Good Morning America for its large crowd in spite of continued stay-home orders — and said it directly led to a delayed reopening for the county,” reported Alayna Shulman for the Redding Record Searchlight.
“Kerri Schuette, a spokeswoman for the county’s Health & Human Services Agency, confirmed to the Record Searchlight that ‘The rodeo came to the governor’s attention and it has delayed full implementation of opening businesses back up here,’ she said in an email,” Shulman wrote.
“While the county also recorded its first new coronavirus patient in almost two weeks [the day after the rodeo],” Schulman continued, “Schuette said the man’s illness isn’t related to the rodeo.”
Earlier, Shasta County had 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths.
“The County condemns this mass gathering,” Schuette added, “and officials are taking steps to investigate the event and will take action accordingly.”
“I am not happy & the state isn’t happy”
Said Shasta County health officer Karen Ramstrom, “I am not happy and the state isn’t happy. We’re all frustrated. It was inappropriate and it put the community at risk of disease transmission among attendees and the people they are in contact with, which could include vulnerable people who did not attend. It jeopardizes the ability for all Shasta County businesses to move forward into full Stage 2 opening, which delays our economic recovery.”
Explained Schulman, “The state’s Stage 2 guidelines would have let Shasta County reopen ‘retail, dine-in restaurants, shopping malls, car washes, pet grooming, tanning facilities, office-based businesses, outdoor museums and childcare facilities.”
Rodeo organizer Jeff Davis did not respond to two Record Searchlight requests for comment, and apparently did not respond to anyone else, either.
Wrote Doni Chamberlain, who with her son Joe Domke founded the Redding-based electronic newspaper aNewsCafe in 2007, “The worst part of all this was not the global shaming. The worst part is that our entire county now faces the dire consequences of 2,000 individuals’ decision to break the rules. Cottonwood,” Chamberlain reminded, “is the town in which Shasta County supervisor Les Baugh recently thumbed his nose at our governor’s executive order by getting a non-essential haircut at a non-essential business, and then bragged about it on Facebook.
“One of Les Baugh’s best buddies,” Chamberlain alleged, “is former sheriff Tom Bosenko, who retired a few months ago, but not before recommending that the Shasta County Board of Supervisors hire undersheriff Eric Magrini.
“When it comes to the fallout from the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo,” Chamberlain assessed, “the buck stops squarely at the feet of Magrini. Not only did he know about the upcoming rodeo, but he justified it, and did nothing to stop it. If he had headed that rodeo off at the pass by forbidding it from happening in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We wouldn’t be wondering how much longer we’ll be in time-out because of one rodeo.
Sheriff failed to enforce the law
“You can see exactly how big a part the sheriff played in giving the rodeo a glowing green light of approval,” Chamberlain charged, “by watching a KRCR interview in which a reporter talked to Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini before the rodeo: ‘Cottonwood Rodeo to take place on Sunday, Sheriff Magrini won’t enforce stay-at-home order.’
“The station aired the clip the day before the rodeo.”
Wondered Chamberlain, “If local students made the same pitch to Magrini as the rodeo folks, would their graduations be allowed, too? How about a small outdoor wedding?”
Chamberlain recalled that Magrini on March 25, 2020 allowed local gun stories to remain open as “essential services,” despite the statewide shutdown of most businesses.
“Our way of life in this rural county warrants this decision,” Magrini said then.
“It’s no secret,” Chamberlain finished, “that many are loaded for bear and itching for a fight to defend what they see as their dwindling rights, especially during this ‘plandemic.’ They don’t believe it. They think COVID-19 is exaggerated; a liberal hoax to destroy our country,” despite the fast-rising body count.
SHARK reported violation
The Cottonwood Mother’s Day Rodeo went on, said Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) spokesperson Stu Chaifetz, not only in defiance of the California statewide stay-at-home order, but even though Magrini and county health officer Ramstrom knew that SHARK was watching and would publicize any violations.
SHARK and Chaifetz had already demonstrated that they were not just whistling Dixie (or the Battle Hymn of the Republic, in Jeff Davis country) by invoking stay-at-home orders to shut down captive bird shoots at eight hunting clubs, including two relatively nearby in northern California, and two more in New Jersey.
“SHARK reported a ‘stay-at-home’ violation to Shasta County, as well as emailing Magrini and Ramstrom,” Chaifetz said. “Neither responded. As a last ditch attempt to get the rodeo stopped, we [also] emailed state officials, including state health officer Sonia Angell, Governor Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary, and other members of the governor’s staff. No one took action to shut the rodeo down.”
Said Chaifetz following the rodeo, “After watching video of the rodeo as shown by KRCR (Redding), of hundreds of people packed into the rodeo with no care for public health, we believe our worst fears are going to be confirmed, and that many people will become infected and possibly die from this one event.”
Politicization mutes epidemiological questions
That might happen, or might not, depending on whether infected people were in attendance and on the extent of contact they had with others. Available data indicates that the COVID-19 coronavirus is far less likely to be spread at outdoor events than indoors, and less likely to survive on surfaces in bright sunshine than in the cold, damp weather prevailing in the months and places where outbreaks have been most severe.
The politicization of stay-at-home orders, masking, and “social distancing,” as exemplified in Cottonwood on Mother’s Day 2020, has meanwhile obscured sound epidemiological arguments against some of the most onerous aspects of present public health policy in response to COVID-19.
This in turn has made seeking policy amendments based on public health considerations increasingly difficult, as stay-at-home orders, masking, and “social distancing” have become widely accepted as necessary to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Resistance to stay-at-home orders, masking, and “social distancing” characterized by mass civil disobedience, as in Cottonwood, and gun-waving demonstrations led by far-right militia leaders, anti-vaxxers, and fundamentalist clergy, as often seen elsewhere, meanwhile tends to drown out in partisan noise any and all serious questions about whether present COVID-19 control measures are really doing the job.
Among the often lost points is the certainty that a person cannot protect others from any illness by increasing his or her own risk of becoming ill.
Taking risks by violating stay-at-home orders for trivial reasons, not wearing a mask in situations posing a significant risk of infection, and not practicing appropriate “social distancing” are all foolish; but doing any of these things to excess in inappropriate situations can be equally foolish, and dangerous to oneself and others.
A second point often lost is that COVID-19 is scarcely the only, or even most potentially deadly, of all of the pathogens, molds, fungi, and pollens that a person might inhale & normally harmlessly exhale, in an ordinary day.
A related point is that masks at the best of times accumulate pathogens, molds, fungi, and pollens that the wearer would normally harmlessly exhale. Masking concentrates this material in a breath-warmed-and-moistened perfect medium for the cultivation of influenzas and bacterial lung diseases, and oblige the mask-wearer to continually re-breathe unhealthy detritus that would otherwise be dispersed, cool off, dry out, and die.
Masks are appropriate when worn for a limited time while performing such tasks as surgery, ripping out drywall, and spray painting. They furnish little or no net gain in safety, for either oneself or others, when conducting normal activities in a normally distanced environment, especially outdoors.
(A rodeo arena, or any sports arena, however, is self-evidently not a normally distanced environment, nor is public transport, nor any sort of mass gathering where people are typically more than arms’ length apart.)
Shibboleths & further considerations
The furor over the Cottonwood Mother’s Day Rodeo, which ANIMALS 24-7 and SHARK, among others, would prefer to be focused on egregious abuse of animals in the guise of entertainment, is instead mostly about defiance of authority on the one hand, by know-nothings driving oversized pickup trucks draped with Confederate flags, and of social convention reinforced by group shaming on the other.
Masking, in particular, is mostly a placebo when practiced outdoors, normally distanced from other people, which allows the wearers to imagine they are doing something about a situation they really have very little control over; a shibboleth; a virtue-signaling device; a fashion statement; and, more and more, a political statement ignoring the reality that the first time anyone sneezes or coughs into a mask, he/she has exponentially increased the risk that he/she will become ill with something, and thereby come to infect others, even if several days later.
Recognizing that COVID-19 has now killed 84,000 Americans, in a little less than half of 2020, the U.S. is still only halfway to the average annual U.S. toll of 177,000 deaths from lower respiratory tract illness, including pneumonia and asthma, many of which infections are more likely to be amplified by masking than prevented.
This requires consideration too, even if one happens to believe that Donald Trump and everything he and his supporters stand for also amounts to a severe degenerative disease.