A saddle bronc horse bucks wildly as the rider holds on. Photo by Scott Ball.
County Judge Nelson Wolff has requested the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo be postponed due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the annual event. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

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Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has asked the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s board chair to consider postponing the event, scheduled to begin next week, to help contain local coronavirus infections.

The rodeo, set to kick off Feb. 11 and run through Feb. 28 at Joe Freeman Coliseum, features daily professional rodeo competitions and live musical performances that attract thousands of people daily. It also includes a livestock show with hundreds of exhibitors. The letter sent Monday to Nancy Loeffler, the rodeo board chair, came as officials announced that Fiesta would be postponed until June.

“I was hoping by this time we would be in much better shape than we currently are with respect to COVID-19,” Wolff stated in the letter.

Wolff wrote that he spoke with rodeo officials over the weekend to share his “serious concerns” regarding this year’s rodeo and entertainment events.

“I suggested that it would be best to postpone the rodeo for now,” he stated. “With attendance at 4,000 each night, some 56,000 people will attend over the 14-day rodeo.”

Wolff also expressed concerns in the letter about new coronavirus variants that have appeared in some U.S. locations that are “much more contagious” and potentially “more dangerous.”

“You have every right to proceed under the current lease with Bexar County as long as [San Antonio Livestock Exposition] follows the governor’s emergency orders,” Wolff wrote. If the event is not postponed, he urged rodeo officials to “do their best to protect attendants. … However these protocols will be difficult to enforce with large crowds.”

Rodeo officials didn’t directly respond to questions about whether they would postpone the event, but spokeswoman Lauren Sides told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday that the “safety of rodeo athletes, patrons, and volunteers is of utmost importance.”

“The precautionary measures we are implementing during the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo not only adheres to, but also exceeds current local and state health guidelines,” Sides said.

In his letter, Wolff noted that Austin and Fort Worth canceled their rodeos, and Houston moved its rodeo from March to May. Houston Rodeo officials later announced Wednesday its rodeo has also been canceled for this year. Those cities will stage their junior livestock shows without public audiences, he stated.

If the rodeo is held, Wolff states he hopes rodeo officials are ready to strictly enforce health policies, as was done for the Valero Alamo Bowl football game held at the Alamodome on Dec. 29.

“The City of San Antonio had to take extraordinary efforts … even removing people who did not wear facemasks,” Wolff wrote, adding rodeo organizers “must be prepared to do so as well.”

Wolff concluded by stating it is still rodeo officials’ decision to hold the performances or not. “Just realize the difficult situation you will face in enforcing compliance and the risk that doing so presents,” Wolff stated.

Wolff is not the only county official who has expressed concerns about the impact of the rodeo on local rates. At a county commissioners meeting last month, Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) brought forward an item that would require rapid COVID-19 testing at the doors as rodeo attendees enter Freeman Coliseum, which is owned by the county. There are no current plans in place to enact testing requirements to enter the rodeo. The next commissioners meeting is set for Feb. 9, two days before the start of the rodeo.

Rodeo officials announced in a statement last week this year’s rodeo was still set to take place, but with some major changes and COVID-19 precautions in place. Changes include a scaled-down version of performances set to take place in the coliseum, which has a seating capacity of about 9,500. Rodeo performances, typically held in the larger AT&T Center, are scheduled for Feb. 12 through Feb. 28.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...