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‘A lot of people’: Wyandotte County venue presses on with concerts despite COVID surge

·3 min read
The Foo Fighters, with lead singer Dave Grohl, will kick off a busy musical weekend in Kansas City with their concert Aug. 5 at Azura Amphitheater.

As Kansas City continues to fight a wave of COVID-19’s deadly and highly contagious delta variant, several large scale events remain on the calendar even as area public health experts have openly pondered how safe such gatherings are.

One of the biggest upcoming shows in terms of scale is expected to be country music star Garth Brooks’ performance at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. But in the meantime, other mass gatherings are happening across the state line as well, including in Wyandotte County’s Azura Amphitheater, an 18,000-person venue in Bonner Springs with a set list of notable musicians booked through the weekend.

Up through Sunday, Azura — originally known as Sandstone upon its opening in 1984 — is hosting on three different nights the Foo Fighters, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson and Nashville-based country band Lady A. The venue is recommending that concert-goers wear masks, but those are not required.

The concert venue abruptly canceled a concert with Jason Isbell scheduled for this week citing “unforeseen circumstances.” Chris Fritz, president of New West Presentations, which manages the venue, did not immediately reply to The Star on Tuesday seeking comment on the upcoming events.

As of Tuesday, the Kansas City metro area had gained 762 new cases for a total of 162,519 to date. The area’s seven-day average also has risen sharply, and 12 new deaths were reported by area agencies. And some area hospitals have emergency rooms packed to the point that they are asking people not to visit the ER in cases other than a serious medical emergency.

Area government leaders have responded with a patchwork of new mask orders, the largest being Kansas City, which put in place its latest mandate on Monday. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas is scheduled to consider a proposed public health order that could take effect Thursday if approved by commissioners.

Under the Wyandotte County order, masks would again be mandated inside public spaces for most people over the age of 5 and has an expiration date of Sept. 9. It comes as area public health officials have raised concern over the spread of the virus and urged commissioners to take action.

That proposed order apparently only applies to the indoors. Exemptions are given for young children, though masks are encouraged for the 2-5 age group. Also not required to wear the face coverings are people with certain medical conditions or disabilities.

A spokeswoman for the Unified Government’s health department did not respond to The Star.

Health officials have said the safest thing people can do is get the vaccine. Still, the number of confirmed cases locally continues rise, with hospitalizations and deaths climbing, and vaccination outreach efforts have been underwhelming.

Outdoor events are still areas where the virus may be transmissible — especially among those who have not been vaccinated — health officials have recently warned. Breakthrough infections, while rare, are also a greater risk if people do not follow social distancing or mask-wearing precautions, according to health officials.

While discussing the upcoming Arrowhead concert on Monday, Steve Stites, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System, said that he would personally use a mask regardless of vaccination status even if the event is outdoors. He said he would take into consideration that there will be a lot of people who will be singing out loud and screaming.

Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the health system, said that the fact that the event is outdoors shouldn’t be downplayed because that can reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“We do understand there will be a lot of people there,” Hawkinson said. “However, it will be outdoors. People are still welcome to mask, if they take their own risk evaluation and risk assessment into that.”

The Star’s Robert A. Cronkleton and Angela Cordoba Perez contributed to this report.

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