MENTOR, Ohio — The city of Mentor has announced plans to kick off its Tuesday summer concert series, Mentor Rocks, after the first four concerts of the year were canceled due to COVID-19.
The first concert will take place June 30 at the Mentor Civic Amphitheater, with health protocols in place and a strict limit of 4,000 people who can attend.
Kenn Kaminski, Mentor's parks and recreation director, said social distancing will be a priority at the amphitheater, among other protocols, and that those who feel sick should not attend.
"There are going to be hand sanitizer stations," Kaminski said. "We’re gonna recommend them wearing a mask."
Kaminski said there will be only lawn seating and that people who are not from the same household are responsible for staying six feet apart and practicing social distancing.
"We’re asking that the people that come in, they come in with their family members only and that any interaction that takes place is very limited or not at all," Kaminski said.
The amphitheater will also establish one-way entrances and exits to reduce contact between people.
"We are actually going to have sidewalks, really wide painted sidewalks on the grounds so that people don’t have to veer around everybody to get [from] point A to point B," Kaminski said.
Working with health officials
Kaminski noted that the city didn't make this decision on its own. The protocols submitted by the city were approved by the Lake County General Health District and determined by state health guidelines.
Ron Graham, health commissioner at the Lake County General Health District, said the district has been meeting twice a week with mayors and managers in Lake County, looking at how to respond to events from both health and economic standpoints and reviewing risk factors.
"That really centered around them coming up with a plan that they felt they could support," Graham said. "They looked at those groups of 10, social distancing by six feet. Physical barriers, whatever resources they have."
There was a lot of "back and forth with the document until they got it to where it was acceptable," Graham said.
Graham noted that there weren't specific health guidelines from the state for outdoor concerts. However, he said, they relied on a recent health order that indicated grandstands at county fairs could have 2,500 seated people.
"We feel we can have better control than that, and if that was an acceptable risk by the governor for a fair, we thought that would be at or below that risk to operate the event," Graham said.
He added that the county is "launching a campaign on personal responsibility," trying to get people back to normalcy, although the health district still recommends high-risk individuals and older adults stay away from these events.
"With really a lack of guidance, we took all the best pieces of other interventions and guidance by sector and put them together to make a plan that we felt was feasible for Lake County, given the numbers we have as far as cases and deaths, that we felt the risk was much lower than what other things could be," Graham said.
He said he believed the local health officials were actually "more proactive and more comprehensive" in coming up with guidance than would have been the case with state guidance.
Graham said the Mentor Rocks series would be a "test event, knowing that if anything goes left-of-center, we would certainly react to it and cancel anything we’d need to."
What to expect
Some of the other protocols in place include spreading out food trucks and not allowing a dancing crowd in front of the stage. The venue will also have social distancing and protocol reminders on the large television screens.
The entire viewing area that includes lawn seating, Kaminski said, is about 160,000 square feet. In the past, the venue has hosted concerts with as many as 12,000 people and averaged about 7,500 in previous years.
Kaminski said the doors will open at 5 p.m., and that no one will be allowed on the grounds prior to that. In the past, he said, people would start showing up at 2 p.m.
"The doors are going to open, we are literally going to count everybody coming in and then once we get to 4,000, it is over. We are not allowing anyone else in," Kaminski said.
Big crowds likely to be last to resume
On Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine answered questions at a press briefing about events at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton later this summer, including the Hall of Fame induction and an NFL preseason game, which could involve 20,000 fans. He said events with big crowds would likely be the last to resume.
"Having a crowd that size, I think, is highly unlikely," DeWine said of having 20,000 fans seven weeks from now. "Certainly, it could not occur today. It would be very dangerous to do it today."
DeWine also added that minor league ballparks are looking at other events that could be held in the parks.
"There are certainly possibilities," DeWine said. "You have a lot of space and doing things where people could be spread out. It is outside.
How people are reacting
Rob Shulin told News 5 on Wednesday that he supports the idea of having concerts as long as there are proper precautions.
"If people come out, they’re well aware of the risks," Shulin said. "We all know there’s risk in life and if you come out to a public forum such as this, you are really putting yourself at risk. But take precautions."
But not everyone is sure it's a great idea. Sonia Cencic said she wasn't aware the concerts were resuming, but that they had attended them regularly last year. However, she said she wasn't sure if she'd attend and that it depended on crowd control and social distancing, as she has elderly parents.
"I’ve been very much exercising an abundance of caution," Cencic said. "Nobody knows. I mean, my neighbor’s a nurse in the ER and she says that it’s a good idea to be overly cautious," especially when dealing with people who are immunocompromised.
She added, "I guess I hope everyone stays healthy and well this summer and still enjoys their families in a safe way."
Kaminski said enforcement will be a difficult aspect of the concert series, but that this also involves personal responsibility.
"If you’re not comfortable, don’t come," Kaminski said. "If you’re comfortable and you want to wear a mask, go ahead. We are going to have all the safety protocols there for you if you don’t bring your own."
What about fireworks?
The city of Mentor also announced Wednesday it would be canceling its Independence Day concert and fireworks. Kaminski said that unlike the concert series, the city would not be able to control the larger crowd size or manage social distancing for the fireworks.
"The other issue that we had to take into account is if the city of Mentor was the only city in Lake County to run fireworks, now we’re going to have the whole county come over to see us, and that is completely out of our control," Kaminski said.
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