A concert that was canceled for its potential to massively spread COVID-19 in the hot zone of South Dakota has been brought back from the dead with a new featured artist—one who’s already been slammed for playing to packed pandemic crowds.
Country singer Chase Rice will perform at Saturday’s event, after the original headliner, Chris Young, dropped out following a Daily Beast report on the potential danger of such a big indoor gathering.
At the time, The Daily Beast reported that Sanford Health, a nonprofit hospital system, was sponsoring the event in conjunction with Gov. Kristi Noem, who also took heat for endorsing a Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota, which nearly half a million people attended.
“We are very excited to be welcoming Chase Rice, Neil Thrasher, and Kelley Lovelace to our event,” Mary Lehecka Nelson, deputy commissioner of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, told Dakota News Now. Lehecka Nelson said tickets for the concert—at the Denny Sanford Premier Center on Oct. 24—will not be sold to the general public but might be available through giveaways. Lehecka Nelson did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast on Monday, nor did representatives for Rice.
The concert is part of the governor’s Sportsmen’s Showcase, meaning it is funded by private and corporate donors and planned by Noem’s Office of Economic Development. The showcase website says that the governor expects 100 exhibits and up to 10,000 attendees at the weekend-long event, but it was not clear how many would attend the concert. The Daily Beast previously reported that the concert was expected to draw about 5,000 people, but it was not yet clear Monday if that estimate had changed.
This would not be Rice’s first time holding a concert in the middle of the pandemic. He was panned by fellow country stars in June for playing to a packed, largely maskless audience. “Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people’s health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now,” singer-songwriter Kelsea Ballerini, 26, tweeted at the time. “We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.”
As of Monday, the state had a cumulative total of 33,836 COVID-19 cases, with 567 new diagnosed infections overnight, 304 people currently hospitalized with the virus, and 323 total deaths. The state’s 14-day trend was increasing in daily cases, according to its coronavirus dashboard, which also showed a grave 13 percent positivity rate over the past two weeks in diagnostic test results. As a general rule, the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center notes that “the higher the percent positive is, the more concerning it is.” A popular threshold for a percent positive being “too high” is 5 percent.
“Holding a mass concert indoors with no masks is a recipe for a superspreader event, especially in a town that has a COVID case rate spiraling upward,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “Concerts are the perfect storm for the coronavirus, with thousands of people crowded together, and shouting and singing throughout the venue. The fact that it is sanctioned by the governor and hosted by a health company is sheer folly.”
“The state should have public health rules in place that ban gatherings,” Gostin told The Daily Beast on Monday. “That is what any responsible government official would do. Instead, the governor is encouraging dangerous behavior that is likely going to lead to disease and hospitalization.”
Dr. Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer for Healix International, which provides medical information to organizations whose clients travel internationally, agreed, telling The Daily Beast that the event “brings together a whole bunch of red flags.”
After videos of Rice playing to massive crowds made the rounds in June, he released a statement on social media saying “everybody had a blast” at his show. “I understand there’s a lot of varying opinions, a lot of different opinions on COVID-19, how it works with live music crowds.”
“My biggest thing is y’all,” he continued. “You guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge, huge priority.”