WHY A 2020 KENTUCKY DERBY WITH SPECTATORS IS ILL-ADVISED

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald just published an article titled “Is MLB Walking into a Mess it will Regret,” which discussed whether the 2020 season should be played at all. He asked a troubling question: “Should it be happening…in the midst of a pandemic that has taken more than 120,000 lives and is showing a worrisome uptick in cases?”

The very same question looms large about the 2020 Kentucky Derby, at least a Derby with fans in attendance trackside.

Consider pertinent facts pertaining to Churchill Downs, Inc.’s decision to hold a scaled-down 2020 Kentucky Derby complete with spectators.

First, the coronavirus is spiking in 29 states as people venture out and try to resume some semblance of their lives before the coronavirus.  On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar warned the country that increased outbreaks in southern and southwestern states are likely to spiral out of control without immediate intervention.

He cautioned: “The window is closing.  We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social-distance. We need to wear our face-coverings if we’re in settings where we can’t social-distance, particularly in these hot zones.”

A 2020 Kentucky Derby with spectators is not acting responsibly because crowds spread Covid-19.

Second, all public events with ties to the Kentucky Derby, such as the parade and Derby-eve charitable fundraising events, have been cancelled over Covid-19 concerns.

Third, the World Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair, held the week prior to the Derby, will not be able to have spectators by edict of Kentucky governor Andy Beshear.  (The fairgrounds is located less than four miles from Churchill Downs.) Why a horse show that draws perhaps 5,000 fans on its closing night in a 19,000-seat arena is deemed unsafe for spectators but the Derby with a much larger crowd is not is inexplicable. 

Fourth, the most optimistic projection for a Covid-19 vaccine is early 2021.

Fifth, while the Kentucky Derby 2020 is about two months away, the pandemic is likely to be worse in September than it is now. The World Health Organization said on June 29 that “the worst is yet to come.”

Given the forgoing facts, as of July 2020, there is no sound reason to believe the Derby can be held safely with spectators.  Even with reduced attendance, the Derby will be a contagion enabler, particularly in light of the party-like atmosphere and booze that encourage social proximity rather than social distancing.  

Moreover, from a business standpoint, Churchill Downs is inviting lawsuits from attendees and employees who later claim they contracted Covid-19 as a result of track management’s negligence. (On Monday, the union representing Las Vegas hospitality workers filed a lawsuit against casino operators for allegedly failing to protect employees from Covid-19.)

The board of directors and upper management of Churchill Downs have shown themselves to be skilled executives who have richly rewarded long-term shareholders. With the obvious health and financial risks of a Derby with spectators, they surely may soon reconsider and prudently decide to run a spectator-free Derby after all…following the lead of states that have reversed course and once again closed restaurants and other facilities as cases of Covid-19 have increased dramatically.

In the words of Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Center for Disease Control about the pandemic: “This is really the beginning. I think there was a lot of wishful thinking around the country that, hey its summer, everything is going to be fine…We are not over this and we are not even beginning to be over this.”

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