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Despite rise in COVID cases, Irish Fest organizers confident event will be safe

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- With Iowa Irish Fest weekend on the horizon, final preparations are underway in downtown Waterloo. Crews continue to set up tents and stages.

More than 30,000 people are expected to pack Lincoln Park and the streets around it to enjoy live Irish music, food and drinks.

Organizers are following the latest CDC coronavirus safety guidelines. Irish Fest Medical Director Dr. James Poock said they are asking attendees to wear masks indoors, frequently wash their hands, and stay home if they feel sick.

They have installed extra sanitizing stations around downtown. Dr. Poock said he is confident the event will be safe.

"We ask people to use common sense and take care of each other," Dr. Poock said. "The majority of the event is outdoors. We asked the people that are ill not to come. I don't see any reason why we won't have a safe event."

Black Hawk County is already experiencing high levels of COVID-19 transmission. COVID-19 cases have increased 600% from where they were in May and June. MercyOne Northeast Iowa is starting to feel the effects of the COVID surge.

"We've been sitting fairly low on COVID admissions over that May, June timeframe," MercyOne Northeast Iowa Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Sojka said. "We've got 400% quadrupled our numbers over the last week to 10 days."

Dr. Sojka said the idea of many people in a small area during the three-day festival makes him nervous. He worries it could lead to a spikein cases, and a few weeks from now, a surge in hospitalizations.

"Individuals need to do what they have to do if they're at risk. If they've not been vaccinated, reconsider going," Dr. Sojka said. "If you've been vaccinated and you feel comfortable, try to keep your distance as much as possible. In events like this, concerts, stage events where people are getting together, it is challenging."

Thousands of bikers from across the country rolled through Waterloo last Wednesday for Ragbrai. Riders were only in town for a handful of hours.

"Most of them don't live here in the Cedar Valley," he said. "They are going to be coming back here and being sick."

Dr. Sojka said he was more concerned with Irish Fest since it is a local event and draws attendees from Cedar Valley.

"It makes me nervous about what that's going to bring. Hopefully, the individuals that go are vaccinated," he said. "It's really that younger population 20 to 50 years old, that's not vaccinated, that's really getting COVID at this time, and that makes me nervous because those are the type of individuals that attend Irish Fest."

Organizers hope this year's Irish Fest, back after last year's event was canceled, is the biggest yet.

"I think that people are looking for an event, and people are looking for their camaraderie with their fellow people," Dr. Poock said. "I think it'll be good for the community to have this event go off."

The festival kicks off at 4 p.m. Friday.

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Daniel Perreault

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