Common Council reapproves Fall Ride, Thunder Parade permits as Health Department Director warns of COVID-19 spread
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – The City of Tomahawk Common Council during its Tuesday, July 14 meeting narrowly voted to reapprove Tomahawk Main Street Inc.’s special event permits for the Downtown Tomahawk Veterans Fall Ride and the Thunder Parade following a request to rescind the permits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council originally approved Main Street’s permit application for Fall Ride festivities downtown at its March meeting. After the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s June cancellation of its portion of Fall Ride events at SARA Park, along with the Thunder Parade, Main Street took control of the parade. The council approved Main Street’s Thunder Parade permit last month.
Lincoln County Health Department (LCHD) Director and Health Officer Shelley Hersil told the council that LCHD is currently not recommending mass gatherings of more than 50 people and stated her belief that COVID-19 spread would occur at Fall Ride festivities.
Fall Ride events downtown are scheduled for Sept. 18 and 19, while the Thunder Parade is slated for Sept. 18.
Downtown Veterans Fall Ride
Jerry Dvorak, on behalf of VFW Post 2687 in Tomahawk, asked the council to rescind the permits “due to the inability to social distance and the obvious fact that nobody’s going to wear a mask” at the event.
“I think it’s very unwise. I think it’s very unhealthy for everyone in attendance,” he said.
Lincoln County Health Department (LCHD) Director and Health Officer Shelley Hersil provided recommendations from the department.
“Right now, we are just not recommending mass gatherings, anything over 50 people. I don’t see that recommendation changing,” she stated. “We’re seeing more disease in the county. We’re averaging one to two cases a day, and I anticipate that to continue to rise as people are starting to gather in the community at events.”
The Lincoln County Board of Health agrees with LCHD’s recommendations, she added.
Hersil said the main contributors to the spread of COVID-19 are gatherings, “whether with family, friends, or at public establishments.”
The council ultimately voted 4 to 3 to reaffirm Main Street’s Downtown Fall Ride permit, with District 2 alderpersons Jeff Kahle, Dale Ernst, and Will Garske and District 3 alderperson Tadd Wegener in favor. District 1 alderpersons Patricia E. Haskin and Ed Nystrom, and District 3 alderperson Mike Loka were opposed.
Main Street Executive Director Aimee Dickrell said “thousands” could potentially line the roads and streets to watch the Thunder Parade, and “upwards of 500 or 600” riders have participated in the parade in previous years.
Dickrell said Main Street is waiting for LCHD to give its approval to the School District of Tomahawk to use the elementary parking lot at the school complex as the meeting point for parade participants. Hersil recommended that Main Street provide LCHD with a description of the gathering that would take place at the school, and the Board of Health would consider the proposal at its July 29 meeting.
Mike Loka stated his opinion that the Thunder Parade would not allow for social distancing.
“…let’s not design something (where) we’re going to pack them in like sardines,” he said.
Garske pointed to the parade’s 18-mile long route as an opportunity for people to distance themselves while taking it in.
The council ultimately voted 4 to 3 to reapprove Main Street’s Thunder Parade permit, with Garske, Ernst, Kahle and Wegener in favor and Mike Loka, Nystrom and Haskin opposed.
Council divided on Fall Ride decisions
Opinions on whether or not downtown Fall Ride events and the Thunder Parade should be held were split among council members.
“I don’t want to face the citizens of this community if we have a huge outbreak, because I don’t think that we have done our job here at the council by allowing this,” Haskin said.
“(The Thunder Parade) is totally against everything they preach not to do,” Mike Loka stated. “If anything should be stopped, it should be people standing shoulder to shoulder in the City of Tomahawk.”
Ernst expressed his belief that even if the council rescinded both permits, people would still come to Tomahawk on Fall Ride weekend.
“I go to the grocery store, I go to Ace Hardware, I go to a lot of businesses downtown, and you have mass gatherings there that they’re doing anyways,” Ernst said. “I’m not naïve to think that I can’t get the virus, but it’s here. I’m sorry to say that the people are going to come anyways, even if we didn’t approve this.”
Ernst added that a shutdown of the city or mandatory closings of businesses would be “the only way” to prevent people from coming to Tomahawk.
Garske pointed to personal responsibility concerning Fall Ride attendance.
“I think everybody’s an adult and knows what they need to do to protect themselves, and if they feel unsafe, what they can do,” he said.
Garske also noted that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is still set to take place from Aug. 7 to Aug. 16, and that organizers and businesses there are taking steps to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“People are still going to show up (in Tomahawk),” he added, echoing Ernst’s statement.
Hersil: ‘I do think there will be disease spread’
Hersil reminded the council that people who would attend Fall Ride would also be going to work, home, and other businesses, which could potentially spread the virus.
“They might get COVID at the Fall Ride because they’re close to each other, and then they bring it other places, and that’s when it spreads,” she said. “We’ve seen that. I’ve seen that in the county. I think we’ll see it more. So just remember it’s not just the Fall Ride.”
Haskin pointed out that people from all over the country come to Tomahawk for Fall Ride.
“It would not be a good idea to have all these people from all these other states coming to Lincoln County,” Hersil stated. “I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be for our Health Department to follow up on all this. We would have to follow up with all of (the people from other states) that come here. If there is disease spread, it would be hard for our department to handle it with an event that large.”
Hersil made it clear that she believed COVID-19 would be spread at Fall Ride.
“I do think that if you have the event, it will be popular. I think people will come and attend, I do think there will be disease spread. A parade is just the perfect place to have that happen,” she said.