The annual National Western Stock Show, scuttled last year by the pandemic, is raring to go starting Saturday, organizers say, even as the highly infectious omicron variant is driving up the number of new COVID-19 cases in Colorado.
The 16-day stock show draws hundreds of thousands of people from across the United States and other countries to the complex in north Denver, where livestock auctions, horse shows and rodeos are held. Hundreds of booths at a trade show typically fill the Exposition Hall.
One thing the 116th edition of the National Western is trying hard not to attract is COVID-19. Driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant, the state’s cases reached 50,974 for the week ending Jan. 2, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The number was up 75% from the prior week and far higher than the state’s single-week record of 37,804 set in November 2020.
Paul Andrews, stock show CEO and president, said his crew is ready to comply with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment’s mandate requiring people to wear masks in all indoor spaces.
“We’ve got masks at every door. We’ve got people handing them out. We have all our signs in English and Spanish,” Andrews said. “As I’ve said publicly a thousand times, we will be adhering to the mandate Denver has asked us to.”
A tweet the stock show sent earlier this week about lightly monitoring mask use prompted talks between the National Western staff and the Denver health department, 9NEWS reported.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the health department, told The Denver Post that he talked to Andrews and other managers and he believes the stock show will do everything it can to comply.
“We will have people out there and if we see things that are just unacceptable or egregious,” McDonald said, “we’re going to have a real-time opportunity to follow up with the management team at the stock show.”
McDonald said it’s possible the event will lead to a surge in new cases. That will depend on the level of compliance with the mask mandate and the controls the stock show puts in place, he said.
“There’s going to be some level of transmission, but that’s probably true in all the indoor settings right now,” McDonald said. “The good news is for those that are vaccinated, they’re going to see less severe symptoms.”
The National Western received a variance from the state requirement that individuals 12 and older at public indoor events with 500 or more people show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
“Unvaccinated people should be aware of increased risk in this setting and make decisions based on their own personal risk assessments,” the state health department said in an email.
Andrews said requiring proof of vaccination to participate in the stock show would have been a non-starter.
“We would have had to cancel the National Western Stock Show, period,” he said. “We would not have had enough competitors to put on the stock show had a vaccine requirement been in place.”
Competitors, from rodeo riders to kids leading their steers into the judging ring, won’t have to wear masks, Andrews said. People out in the livestock yards or eating and drinking won’t have to wear masks.
Andrews figures about 60% of the National Western’s activities are outside, and he said that’s what was meant by saying the use of masks would be lightly monitored.
People tending to their cattle, sheep and other animals in the barns will be expected to mask up, McDonald said.
A mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic will be at the National Western in parking lot A, by the Exposition Hall, from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Jan. 13, 20 and 21. Walk-ups will be accepted, but the state health department recommends making appointments at www.mobilevax.us/denver-metro.
The attendance at the 2020 stock show and rodeo was roughly 708,000 and slightly over 700,000 the two years before that. Andrews said people from 43 states are expected at this year’s event, but he’s not predicting how big the crowds will be.
And Andrews isn’t sure how many vendors will be on hand. There are usually 700 to 800 booths in the Exposition Hall, but some people have canceled due to COVID-19 or because pandemic-induced supply-chain problems have left them without enough stock.
Andrews said the National Western is looking for about 100 more workers. The pay starts at $16 an hour and goes up based on job skills.
For Denver-based SSA Group, staffing has been a challenge, too, said Neil Almalbis.
“We have a lot of our staff that came from other locations,” said Almalbis, who lives in Detroit. “We typically hire within a local community, but it’s just been a little bit troublesome this year.”
But Almalbis said the company, which will have six retail sites at the National Western, is looking forward to being back at the stock show. “The stock show is a huge part of our business every single year. The 16 days that we’re here represent a good amount of sales revenue and we depend on it.”
This year, the trade show will feature its first-ever wine bar, Andrews said. Another big change is the livestock yards, the heart of the stock show and where people meet, greet and make deals.
In what Andrews said is a first for any stock show, every pen will have its own power and outlets. People won’t be lugging around generators and pulling long power cords. There will be both hot and cold running water in the yards for people to wash their animals in preparation for the show ring.
The new stockyards events center is open. The building has a show ring where animals will be judged and a 600-seat auction arena.
Also open in time for the stock show will be the first of three buildings that are part of the Colorado State University system. The university is building a complex called Spur and the first building is named Vida, which will focus on human and animal health and will house a pet clinic as well as horses at the Temple Grandin Equine Center.
Other features include:
- A rodeo honoring first responders Jan. 19. A major donation will be made to the Colorado Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
- An admission-free day Jan. 11 sponsored by Arrow Electronics.
For more information, go to https://nationalwestern.com/
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