Chili cook-off canned by COVID-19; Freeland explores taking festival virtual

A group of community leaders gathers at the American Legion Hall in Green Lake to discuss best practices for hosting community events this year. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Each summer, Green Lake is flooded with events that bring the community together and boost local business.

But this summer’s schedule of events will look very different in an effort to keep everyone safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

To better plan this year’s events, the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (GLACC) hosted a meeting between the city’s event planners Wednesday, May 20.

The meeting’s purpose was to discuss best practices for keeping everyone safe over the coming months, as well as provide updates about canceled or rescheduled events.

Notably, the Green Lake Rotary has canceled all of its events this summer, including the Wisconsin State Chili Cookoff Championship in Green Lake.

HUNDREDS OF CHILI lovers come out to Green Lake to enjoy the Wisconsin State Chili Cookoff Championship last year. This year’s event was canceled. Jonathan Bailey photo

In addition, the Freeland Film Festival is discussing converting to a virtual film festival to avoid having large crowds.

Festival Event Coordinator Evelyn Galster noted the organization is looking into keeping some of the panels in Green Lake.

“It still puts Green Lake on the map, it still is bringing people here virtually,” Galster said of a virtual film festival.

Meanwhile, GLACC still is working out the logistics of this year’s Fourth of July celebration and concerts in the park.

Green Lake County Health Officer Kathy Munsey attended the meeting to provide updates on the county’s testing and contact tracing efforts, as well as tips for hosting summer events.

Munsey noted the county’s recommendations for reopening following Safer at Home were based on Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) guidelines.

The county is testing between 20 to 50 people per day and has begun testing in nursing homes.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19 the health department is immediately notified and then it begins reaching out to those who have been in close contact with an infected person.

In reopening, Munsey has told businesses and event coordinators to follow WEDC guidelines and figure out what works best for them.

“Based on the businesses I’ve talked to, most are being very cautious,” Munsey said. “They don’t want to open completely. They want to keep their patrons safe.”

She said one of the best things event coordinators and businesses can do is ensure the measures they’ve put in place are visible. Such visibility may include hanging signage that promotes social distancing, having markings on the floor and installing plexiglass barriers where appropriate.

Munsey believes taking those extra steps will help people feel safe while participating in events or going to businesses.

“If they come in and it’s packed, and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares about the pandemic, they’re going to walk out, and you’re going to lose business,” Munsey said.

The health department will reassess current limits on capacity as the summer progresses. Munsey noted relaxing restrictions will depend on the number of virus cases and hospital capacity within Green Lake County.

“The decisions we make today will impact how things are going tomorrow,” she said.

In hosting events, Munsey noted serving food — even if it’s hotdogs and hamburgers grilled on-site — provides a unique set of challenges.

“You have to exchange money, you have people coming from all over the country that are coming to events, and you are putting the workers at risk,” she said.

One solution Munsey proposed would be to serve boxed meals that are paid for beforehand.

In other communities with similar outdoor events, she added, event planners have drawn circles on the ground 6 feet away from each other that families at the event sit in.

For large events, Munsey asked coordinators to keep a list of attendees and phone numbers to help the health department conduct contact tracing if a confirmed case were to be linked to an event.

“Contact tracing 50 people is a huge challenge; even doing contact tracing for 10 to 15 people can be difficult,” Munsey said.

Beyond trying to maintain physical distance, she said event coordinators will need to be more diligent in disinfecting surfaces that attendees are likely to touch.

Munsey added disinfectant efforts will be especially tricky — and necessary — for multi-day events.

“If you have events, and you are going to be doing them, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to help you walk through what to think about things that maybe you didn’t think of,” Munsey said.

For more information about how to safely host an event this summer, call the Green Lake County Health Department at 920-294-4070 or email