Just days before crowds are expected to fill up downtown La Crosse for Oktoberfest, Mayor Mitch Reynolds released a statement saying he was confident the celebration would be safe amid COVID-19 concerns.
The four-day celebration typically brings in tens of thousands of guests to the city each year, and while it was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, some have questioned its green light this year as local health officials urge large events be cancelled.
But Reynolds said in his statement that he felt the event could be safe, and that it was up to attendees to foster that outcome.
“I remain convinced that the outdoor activities of Oktoberfest can be conducted in a manner that limits the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” he said. “Much of that depends on those who attend wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and having up-to-date COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The biggest risks related to the Oktoberfest celebrations are from those who do not mask, are not vaccinated and gather in large groups at indoor venues,” he said.
Reynolds said that he had been in communication with local leaders about the upcoming celebrations, which includes two parades, music, the tapping of the keg, a 5k run-walk, a carnival and more. He said he had been “assured” by the county that no new guidance for Oktoberfest organizers had been provided since August, and that the health department had “no new concerns” about the event.
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“I have also met again recently with Oktoberfest board members to recommend a heightened level of health and safety protocols,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said that the main concerns of non-vaccinated fest-goers and no masks was largely out of control for organizers, saying it would “occur regardless of whether we had sanctioned parades or events for Fest.”
In his statement the mayor took aim at others for large events amid a new COVID surge, pointing to the annual Wisconsin Counties Association conference happening at the La Crosse Center this week. The indoor, three-day event had about 700 registered guests and no mask requirement.
Oktoberfest events will not have any vaccine or negative test requirements for those in attendance, and while masks and social distancing will be encouraged, they are not required.
Pages of the Past: The early years of Oktoberfest in La Crosse
"The biggest risks related to the Oktoberfest celebrations are from those who do not mask, are not vaccinated and gather in large groups at indoor venues."
Mayor Mitch Reynolds
"It might be noteworthy to point out that while I have been asked about county health department recommendations about large gatherings, La Crosse County government representatives are hosting hundreds attending a mostly indoor Wisconsin Counties Association convention in La Crosse this week."
Mitch Reynolds, La Crosse mayor
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