Big summer sporting events are a big risk

In candidate forums we hosted on March 7, we asked everyone running for the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees if they would say no to big Lake Placid summer events if there is no major improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic, and what conditions would have to be met for them to say yes.

Art Devlin, who ended up winning the mayoral race, said he would follow whatever the state of New York says, but every other candidate expressed skepticism. Some said the Lake Placid Horse Shows could probably happen because they don’t have much close contact, but they didn’t think tightly packed events such as the Ironman triathlon could be done safely enough to be worth the risk.

We got the trustee candidates to discuss the issue a bit more by saying, if the state leaves the decision up to the community and the village board has to decide this spring, how would you vote, if elected? All four candidates said they would vote no to an event such as Ironman because they can’t see a way to control its crowds.

Jackie Kelly, who ended up being elected, cited her recent experience as Conference Center manager working with the National Women’s Hockey League. The NWHL abandoned its “bubble” season in the middle of its two-week run when rules were bent and numerous people got COVID-19.

“If you can’t control the environment, you can’t control anything,” Kelly said. “I would say no, we can’t do it. It’s just an impossibility to keep everything under control.”

Marc Galvin, who also won on March 16, said, “We really can’t stress out our limited medical resources to bring 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 people here and have a possible outbreak. We just don’t have the resources to deal with that. So I just don’t see it as even a possibility that things are going to change enough where we’re going to have a normal event summer.”

All big events were canceled last summer and the U.S.-Canada border was closed, yet tourists flocked to the Adirondacks anyway. Galvin, who owns a bookstore, pointed out that while capacity limits hurt some local restaurants, many Lake Placid business, including his own, “had one of our best summers ever, even being closed for seven weeks.

“I don’t think a lot of people are going to be jumping on the planes this summer to be flying to Europe or anywhere else, so I have a feeling we’re going to be in for a lot of the same, events or not, this summer.”

Last week, however, the public was hearing a different message from a different set of local leaders. Organizers of many of Lake Placid’s biggest sporting events said they are on for this summer. The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism hosted a virtual meeting to make the announcement.

Not so fast, we say.

Horse shows seem fine, but we can’t see any way to effectively control virus spread in Ironman’s crowds, handoffs, wetsuit stripping, etc. Marathons? Not as bad but still worrisome. Lacrosse — at least the contact version played by men’s teams — is classified as a high-risk sport, and the community has never been able to control the Summit tournament’s house party scene. Rugby? No.

We want these events, but not this year.

We’re glad vaccines are working to reduce coronavirus infections, but hyper-contagious mutant strains of the virus are pushing back. This is a rebuilding year. We need to be safe and smart.

Event organizers seem to think it can’t hurt to try, saying they’ll see if the state reins them in. But the state will probably just make them fill out a form and draft a plan, and then leave it up to them to self-enforce. That’s what happened with the NWHL debacle, and a few weeks ago for the Can-Am Pond Hockey tournament. Essex County Health Department director Linda Beers told us everything in this time of COVID has been about self-enforcement — the old honor system. She said there was no way her tiny staff could monitor pond hockey, with its 22 teams and 130 players.

You think you can leave it up to the county or the state to monitor Ironman, with its 2,500 participants and even more fans? They come from all over the world to this race, jostle in close contact with each other and local volunteers, and then go home where they can spread germs.

It really is up to local governments whether to allow such an event this summer. The village of Lake Placid’s new trustees said they would vote no. We will see what happens.