COVID-19 Causes Evacuation at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

01:45PM Mar 11, 2020
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
( Ryann Howe )

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has canceled its event due to growing concerns over novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press conference on Wednesday. 

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the largest livestock exhibitions and rodeos in the world and was scheduled to run through March 22. It's the first shutdown of the rodeo since it was cancelled entirely in 1937, according to ABC13 News.

Of the 25 cases of COVID-19 in Texas, 14 of them are in the Houston area, ABC13 News reports. There are only two confirmed cases in the city of Houston. A presumptive positive case was announced from a Montgomery County patient who attended the BBQ Cook-off on Feb. 28. A disaster declaration for Harris County will be issued later on Wednesday.

Livestock industry heartbreaker
This news comes as a great disappointment for livestock exhibitors in Texas. This week is filled with poultry, lamb, market goat and breeding heifer shows among others. 

“As heartbreaking as this is for our millions of fans, exhibitors and contestants, it’s the right thing to do for the wellbeing of our community,” Joel Cowley, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, said in the press conference. 

Some livestock and horse shows are going on now, he explained. But they will wind down by the end of the day. All livestock already on the grounds preparing for their shows later this week must depart by 4 p.m.  

“It’s crazy on the grounds,” says Samantha Leifeste, whose sons participate in the cattle shows. “They’ve stopped unloading heifers and are trying to figure out how to get the cattle, lamb and goats that are settled in out of there. It’s a very sad day.”

Waylon Hinze,15, said this would have been his bred Brangus heifer’s last show, and now a great year is over.

“It’s depressing because my brother is a senior and it would have been his last year,” echoes Cassidy Fuchs, a 15-year-old exhibitor from Burton, Texas. 

The market lamb show, which normally takes two days, will be completed in one day, says Clayton Franklin, a mom of a 13-year-old lamb exhibitor from Shallowater, Texas.

“I‘m torn. In one vein you are actually concerned about this – there are things that are much bigger than a stock show. But when you think about the seniors who have worked since they were 9 years old for this, it’s tough,” she says. “I’m kind of numb that all of this is happening. Everyone is disappointed. It’s disappointing that we are having to deal with this as a nation.”

Exhibitors tear down stalls and get ready to load their heifers back onto the trailer to go home. Photo by Ryann Howe.

Collegiate judging teams turn around
Many college livestock judging teams were on their way – by plane and van – to participate in the one of their biggest events of the year. The collegiate livestock judging contests were scheduled for Mon., March 16. 

"Although we are disappointed with the cancellation of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and its associated livestock judging contest, we realize this is an unprecedented public health emergency. While we work hard all year and consider the Houston contest and the workouts during the trip as the pinnacle of our judging year, we know that pales in comparison to the health and wellbeing of our students and the public at large," says Grant Grebner, livestock judging coach at Illinois Central College. 

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is well known for its generous scholarships for young people. Cowley noted that it will fulfill its annual contributions to scholarships.

“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been a fabric of this community since 1932. Having to close early is extremely difficult as guests, volunteers, exhibitors, rodeo athletes and entertainers look forward to the 20 days of the Rodeo each year,” rodeo officials said in a statement.

The multi-day event generates a $227-million economic impact, according to the RodeoHouston website, and generates nearly 3,700 direct jobs. The 2020 event experienced the lowest opening attendance for the first six days over the past five years, ABC13 News reports.

For those holding pre-purchased items, tickets or carnival packets, they will post refund information on their website.

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