This weekend, we welcome some 20,000 visitors to Cullman for Rock the South. We hope these visitors have a good time, that they meet the welcoming and friendly people of Cullman and go back to their communities speaking well of their visit to our community.
Our fear, though, is that Cullman is going to be talked about in a much less positive light.
With a county-wide covid vaccination rate lower than the state average - which is already the lowest in the nation - amid a quickly-spreading virus, it’s entirely possible “Cullman” becomes synonymous with “super spreader.” Cullman leaders are rightfully protective and careful with the community reputation, and a designation of a super spreader event is not the national recognition anyone wants for our city or county. But it may be the one we’ve earned.
The only thing spreading faster than the delta variant of the covid virus is blame, and there is a lot of it to go around. There are the individuals who won’t get vaccinated or wear masks because someone is telling them to do so, and they don’t like to be told what to do. If stubbornness prevented diseases, we’d be fully covered against all illnesses.
Then there are our state leaders. Gov. Kay Ivey says, “blame the unvaccinated,” and that people should use “common sense” in deciding to get vaccinated or wear masks to help limit the spread of the disease. But common sense does not teach people about viruses; science does. Science teaches us that viruses are living organisms that are able to adapt and change to ensure their survival. The coronavirus we faced in 2020 is not the same virus we’re fighting now. The virus changed to be easier to spread and easier to infect. Instead of one person infecting two people, as last year’s virus was capable of, one person infected with the delta variant can infect up to five people. That makes this variant much worse than last year’s virus. As Cullman Regional Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Smith told Cullman Rotary this week, “It’s simple math.”
Maybe instead of asking people to follow common sense, we should ask them to follow science and do the math.
Science also tells us the virus does not spread as easily outside. However, when it comes to large events, like concerts or political rallies, people are much closer together and the danger of viral spread increases.
There are some who say the organizers of Rock the South aren’t doing enough to protect concert-goers. But thanks to Ivey and the Alabama General Assembly, there isn’t a lot they can do, short of canceling. State lawmakers this year passed a bill that does not allow businesses to refuse service or entry to people based on their vaccination status. Unlike the Lollapalooza concert that took place in Chicago recently, where attendees had to either be vaccinated or get a same-day covid test, in Alabama that is verboten.
Lollapalooza drew about 385,000 people to the four-day festival and organizers said about 90 percent of attendees were vaccinated. There have been slightly more than 200 cases of covid traced back to the festival, but it is important to note that none of the cases led to serious illness or hospitalization. That’s what the vaccines do - they help prevent serious illness and death.
You would think that it would be common sense to allow organizers of large events to request people be vaccinated against a fast spreading virus. After all, businesses are allowed to refuse service or entry to people not wearing shoes, and bare feet - while perhaps an unpleasant view for others - have not killed anyone. Apparently, though, in the world of politics, common sense is secondary to political expediency.
Rock the South founder Shane Quick told AL.com this week that the event has been scaled back a bit from previous years and they are providing hand sanitizer throughout the grounds, as well as providing masks for those who request one. He points out that he is invested not just in the event, but in the community as a whole. He said, “This is my home. This is my festival. We take it very serious. We take people’s safety very serious. We love the people that come here. This is a labor or love for us. We’re going to look out for people. If we have to zig and zag and make changes at a whim to keep people safe, that’s what we’ll do.”
We hope they are able to do that. We sincerely hope that this weekend and next - when we invite thousands more people to Cullman County for the Trump rally - that people leave here with good memories and in good health.
Cullman’s reputation is at stake. And we know better than most how reputations can linger for generations.