By Sue Finley
The daily number of U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 virus neared 1,000 per day last week, the highest level the country has seen since February. The seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases reported by the CDC, is at 149,263, and continues to rise.
There are currently four variants circulating in the United States; Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma, with Delta making up over 99% of all cases.
It seems like every day, someone we know in racing has contracted COVID, from trainer Todd Pletcher to the TDN's own Christina Bossinakis, and many of the people surveyed below. At no time is the demand to travel and circulate with others for our jobs in racing greater than it is for the fall sales period.
The TDN talked to a number of buyers and consignors about how they feel about traveling to the sales, what precautions they'll take, and what sales companies can do to make them feel safe.
We start off our conversation with Keeneland's President and CEO Shannon Arvin, who talked about sales protocols.
First and foremost, the health and safety of our clients, staff and equine stock is Keeneland's primary focus. COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges these past 18 months, but by working together, we have successfully navigated a constantly changing world to create a stable and steady market. And I believe we will do that again this fall sales and racing season.
Looking ahead to the September Yearling Sale, Keeneland will follow the guidance of health and government experts to create the safest environment possible for our sales participants. And just like last year, we ask for the continued support and cooperation of our customers and their staffs.
We strongly encourage those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so. Vaccination offers the best protection possible from COVID-19.
Most of us are extremely aware of the risk presented by COVID-19 and take the proper precautions where necessary.
At Keeneland, we have reinstated a mask mandate for all employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, while working indoors. Our unvaccinated employees are required to be tested weekly.
Consistent with current CDC guidelines, we strongly recommend that all sales participants wear a mask when indoors. This is an added layer of defense that keeps you and those you come in contact with safe.
Our facilities at Keeneland will undergo a deep cleaning following each sales session, and we've located hand sanitizing stations throughout the Sales Pavilion and grounds.
We also will continue to offer online bidding and phone bidding for buyers unable to attend the September Sale in person.
The Keeneland team looks forward to welcoming our friends and customers from around the world to Central Kentucky this fall. A silver lining of the pandemic is the resiliency and optimism of horsemen that always seem to carry the industry through challenging times. We are confident the market will continue to be buoyed by enthusiasm at the sales and a keen passion for racing.
Price Bell, Mill Ridge
I'm so glad you all are doing this story on the vaccine and protocols. I think it's important. Considering that last year Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton conducted multiple sales, and quite frankly kept our industry going, I know we can stay safe through this sales season as well. I think the key is keeping activity inside limited and being respectful of people and the variant.
I'm vaccinated, and look forward to the booster. I will wear a mask indoors and in the back ring, where I hope it is crowded. I do feel comfortable going because I thought they did a phenomenal job last year. They created a wonderful environment to conduct business utilizing so much of their outdoor space and I would expect they do something similar this year. I think we have learned from our friends who got sick in Saratoga that the vaccine is not bulletproof and the variant is real.
As for our team, we have worked hard to make everyone aware of the benefits of the vaccine and nearly every team member has been vaccinated. We will provide masks to co-workers and opportunities for us to not gather in the tack/warm rooms.
Liz Crow, BSW/Crow Bloodstock
I will feel comfortable but I will also be a little hesitant because I have a six-month-old baby who is not vaccinated. My concern is always how can I keep her safe. For that reason, I will be a little nervous. I will be wearing a mask and will be careful. I will probably only wear the mask when I am inside. When I look at horses, I generally am not super close to a lot of people except for my team. They are all fully vaccinated, which makes me feel safer.
As for protocols, that's above my paygrade so far as all the thought that has to go into that. I do think there should be a mask mandate for inside. That's probably the right thing to do.
I won't mind going. I've gotten my vaccinations. I had Covid and I got it when I was in Newmarket last year for the yearling sales. Covid changed my life in regards to the amount of traveling I want to do. To be honest with you, my time at horse sales going forward is going to be less than usual. In regards to fear of getting the disease, that's not on my mind. But so far a what it has done to me and my values in life, it's made me step back and look at what might be more important. I want to spend more time enjoying life and my family.
I won't wear a mask unless prompted and told to do so.
I know it's a pain in the butt, but I do feel that proof of vaccination is nice and if not proof of vaccination then you should have to show that you have tested negative. It should be one of the two. I went to the Grateful Dead concert in Saratoga last week and to get into the area of the pit you had to show that you had been vaccinated. To get into the concert, you had to have a negative test or the vaccination. That's like 20,000 people in an outdoor setting and they did their best to make sure that we were at event that would not turn into a super spreader event.
Jon Green, General Manager, DJ Stables
I personally attended the Saratoga sale and was surprised more people were not wearing masks, especially inside the sales pavilion. The number of people who caught some type of illness directly stemming from the sales and/or races was not surprising in my mind–COVID in particular is just that contagious. Since my parents are older, and more susceptible to the negative consequences of any virus, we have opted not to attend the September Sales. Like last year, we have assembled a great team of short listers, trainers and veterinarians to provide us with the information required to make our decisions from afar. Keeneland has done an outstanding job of establishing and improving their digital platform, and we have the utmost confidence bidding on their site. Hopefully the CDC figures will improve over the coming weeks so we can return to Kentucky in November.
I feel very comfortable because I had COVID and I have the antibodies and according to the doctors the antibodies last up to 90 days. I got it at the very end of July. The doctors and nurses told me that 99% of the people in the hospital were not vaccinated and I was not vaccinated either. I definitely regret not getting vaccinated. My wife had it about six months before I did and I was around her the whole time and I never caught it. It's not that I was against the vaccination. I just thought I didn't need it. That was a mistake.
I worry that there's not a lot anyone can do. If you're going to get it you're going to get it. I won't say that I won't go inside the pavilion, but I'm going to try to keep my distance from other people. Everyone should definitely have the Germ-X sanitizer in their pockets and should keep their distance when they can. Having said that, I would feel more comfortable if everyone were vaccinated.
I don't plan on wearing a mask. That's because every doctor has told me I have full-blown antibodies and for 90 days I cannot get COVID and I cannot carry it. I don't feel like I can receive it or give it to anyone. If they want me to wear a mask in certain areas, I will not mind. I'm not against masks by any means.
I feel comfortable going to the sale. I will take precautions like trying to keep my distance from others. Thankfully, most of it takes place outdoors. I won't be going inside the pavilion unless people are masked.
Masking indoors is a no-brainer. We've seen how well that woks and it especially works when everybody does it. I'll definitely wear a mask indoors. When I'm out looking at horses I'll probably have one around my neck and if somebody comes up to me I'll pull it up and talk to them. Thankfully, I am vaccinated. I know I can still get COVID, but my preference is obviously to not get sick.
Meg Levy, Bluewater Sales
Mike and I actually just got over COVID. We both had been vaccinated. We were in Saratoga and the Delta variant was going around, we got it and we're over it and we've been re-vaccinated. Personally, I will feel comfortable.
I just assumed they were going to go back to protocols similar to what they did last fall when they had badges and temperature checks. That seemed to be easy and seemed to go well.
I will wear a mask when I am near people. I think that's only fair the best way to keep others safe. I'm not worried about myself, but it's kind to do the right thing when it comes to others.
I feel comfortable going because I have been vaccinated. At this point, life is going on in the world. Going to the sale wouldn't bother me any more than going to a restaurant. I wear masks indoors and usually outdoors I don't.
I see no reason not to wear masks, especially in indoor situations. That's me personally. Outdoors, I don't think it really helps. I don't know how much a mask helps, but it certainly can't hurt.
Craig Bandoroff, Denali Stud
I feel comfortable going. I am vaccinated and if I can get the booster before the sale I will. On protocols, that's a tricky one. What I have been seeing at various places is that when you go inside you have to wear a mask. I don't think that's unreasonable. If you're going to be inside the pavilion, perhaps you should have to wear a mask, that is unless things start to change.
I don't think I will wear a mask outside. But I am 66 and in a more vulnerable group, so I probably will wear a mask inside. I understand it's hard to get into the country and the Japanese have either had a hard time coming or are reluctant to come. They are a big part of our market. It will be disconcerting if they don't or can't come.
Conrad Bandoroff, Denali Stud
We're doing some simple things that we started last year. We made some changes that we thought would help. As far as protecting our staff, most of our staff have been vaccinated. There's going to be one person responsible for taking down someone's card and rather than have a buyer or agent fill out a card there will be somebody there to do that. That way you'll have fewer touch points. Most likely, we will not be requiring our staff to wear masks, but we will have masks available for our crew if they chose to wear one. Our feeling is that we are outside.