Community officials and private citizens are expressing concern about three events in Lewiston this weekend that are likely to draw hundreds of people from outside the area and what effect that might have on the region’s COVID-19 infections.

As many as 500 people from throughout the Pacific Northwest are expected to participate in a Tent America religious revival sponsored by Echo Hills Church in partnership with the national Awaken the Dawn organization. Activities will take place around the clock beginning today until Tuesday.

In addition the Red, White and Brewfest is scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Nez Perce County Fairgrounds featuring food, live music and 20 different microbrew beers. And a fast-pitch softball tournament normally held in Longview, Wash., is moving to Lewiston from Friday through Sunday. It’s expected to draw 20 to 24 teams.

Only the Brewfest has requested and received approval from Public Health – Idaho North Central District. The Tent America organizers had an inspection from the city building department and discussed their plans with an emergency management official.

“Ideally, moving forward, we would encourage those planning large events to seek public health guidance from Public Health,” Tara Macke, a public health nurse, said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

“The majority of our cases are coming from those who have traveled. … COVID-19 is circulating throughout the United States, and Public Health continues to urge residents to continue practicing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Macke said the Brewfest organizers will be following the health district’s guidance for their event.”

On its Facebook page Brewfest organizers said “we have been in close contact with the city and the local health department regarding COVID-19 protocol and large gatherings. … Social distancing will be critical. … We’ll have lots of hand sanitizer and several hand-washing stations. We also have free masks available if you want to wear one.”

Macke said her department has had no contact with the tent revival organizers to discuss their event. And she had no information about the softball tournament.

Josh Pilon, associate pastor of Echo Hills, said tent coordinators talked to Bill Reynolds, interim director for Nez Perce County’s emergency management office, about conducting a safe gathering.

Following an outcry in emails and social media over a story in Tuesday’s Lewiston Tribune about the tent revival, Pilon said organizers expected there might be some pushback from the public.

“I think the big thing is we’ll be able to stream the event on Facebook, so anyone uncomfortable coming to the tent has the option to participate by watching online,” Pilon said.

He added that many people have the misconception that the revival will be something like a concert with people packed together under a huge tent. Instead, the format has been arranged so that there will not be any single keynote speaker or headline service, but various groups will conduct hourlong prayer and worship or musical sessions that run continuously throughout the six-day period. Even though there may be as many as 500 people from several states, Pilon said there will be no more than a few handfuls of people under the tent at any one time.

“It’s just a little bit difficult to wrap your mind around that,” Pilon said.

“I think that all of the people that we have coming from out of state are aware if they’re not feeling good they need to stay home. That’s been made clear and we will continue … to do our very best to do what we need to do.”

And although face coverings will not be required, people will be asked to wear face masks if they are unable to maintain safe social distancing, Pilon said.

Reynolds confirmed that he talked with the organizers of the tent revival more than a month ago and went through the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and protocols regarding COVID-19.

“When we talked, I felt they totally understood all the guidelines and protocols that would ensure a safe event,” Reynolds said. “My understanding is, Public Health is making sure people know how to comply, and in the end it really comes down to people having personal responsibility to do those things that have been pushed since the beginning of this entire pandemic.”

Tim Barker, director of Lewiston Parks and Recreation, said the United States Specialty Sports Association organization that is sponsoring the fast-pitch softball tournament has rented Airport Park from Friday through Sunday.

“We’ve asked them to reduce the team numbers and spread out the games when they’re occurring,” Barker said. Although he has not yet been provided a game schedule, the organization did supply an 11-page document that outlines return-to-play guidelines and procedures for the teams, and the head of the organization “assured us that he will make sure that these regulations are followed.

“We do know they’re not providing any food on site, so there will be no concessions to worry about. They’re adding games on Friday to spread the teams out,” and they have notified local hotels about out-of-town travelers,” Barker said.

Lewiston City Manager Alan Nygaard, who is head of the city’s COVID-19 response, said he hasn’t talked to any of the organizers of this weekend’s scheduled events. But based on the photograph of the tent revival he saw in Tuesday’s Tribune, “I have concerns because I see the chairs are certainly not in compliance with social distancing. … I can see why people are concerned. We had a meeting at the library, and we put chairs 6 feet apart and you can get about 10 people in the library with that. I understand it cuts down on the crowd.”

Nygaard said the city’s role in this matter is to back up whatever actions Public Health takes to ensure public safety.

“If we hear from the health department then that’s who we’ll work with,” Nygaard said. “If there’s going to be an issue, then we would help support them. We don’t necessarily put out a health call — that’s their job. But we’re here to help them enforce any issues.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

“Ideally, moving forward, we would encourage those planning large events to seek public health guidance from Public Health.”

Public Health Nurse Tara Macke

“I think that all of the people that we have coming from out of state are aware if they’re not feeling good they need to stay home. That’s been made clear and we will continue … to do our very best to do what we need to do.”

Josh Pilon, associate pastor of Echo Hills Church in Lewiston, which is holding a Tent America revival round the clock for six days starting today

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