Feb. 20—The vaccine rollout is bringing optimism to area officials that the summer of 2021 will look nothing like last year.

In a change of pace, there are actually events planned for this summer, including the Cattlemen's Ball, Duncan Ribfest and Duncan's 150th anniversary celebration. The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce is also trying to line up Red, White, Kaboom!

"I think we're anticipating... around 10,000 in attendance (for the 150th celebration)," Village of Duncan Board Chairman Jeff Oppliger said. "We're going to be pushing this event ... not only just in our area but we're advertising across the whole state of Nebraska."

For now, it looks to have worked out timing-wise that 2020 the village's 149th year.

"I think a lot of public events are trending towards scheduling, post vaccinations," Oppliger said. "People are ready to start having their events. I feel that a lot of that has to do with the cases decreasing and I feel that why we're seeing decreasing numbers has a lot to do with all the hard (work) we've put into preventative measures ... along with (vaccinations)."

Cases are significantly down from their November peak, as are hospitalizations. Hospitalizations have fallen below 200 from a November peak of almost 1,000, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 dashboard.

At the same time, the dashboard showed 7% of the population 16 and older has received the full two doses as of Friday. At this point, over 180,000 residents have received one shot of the vaccine, also as of Friday.

However, Nebraska is in the bottom half of states when it comes to the percent of the population that has received the first dose, according to Washington Post data.

People are feeling more comfortable about leaving their homes as more are vaccinated, noted Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Community and Membership Engagement Director Sandie Fischer.

"You hear stories of some people that haven't left their home or haven't seen their family for a year because they've been very careful," Fischer said. "There's an opportunity now, with the vaccines, (to be) able to get together again and have events. I think people are looking forward to that."

A lot of residents are anxious to be out and about again, she noted.

"People are missing that human touch," she added. "That connection."

The Chamber will be moving forward with plans to hold its signature Fourth of July event, like normal. The goal is to have it at Ag Park, though it is early on in the process.

Although organizers pulled it off last year, it was a lot of work, Fischer noted. There will be a meeting next Tuesday, she added, to discuss Columbus Days.

Last July, the Chamber announced it was canceling Columbus Days. The theme had been changed to "There's no place like home," to fit with COVID-19 life but concerns over adapting the activities, limited time, cleaning and financial support contributed to its cancellation.

The month before, in June 2020, the Chamber announced Red, White, KaBoom! would be a drive-in event and aerial show only due to concerns about crowd size.

Similarly, Duncan canceled its Ribfest in May 2020, due to questions about the Directed Health Measures and meat shortages because of the pandemic.

The event is a big revenue generator for the Duncan Volunteer Fire Department and Duncan Wrestling Club, and last year, Oppliger explained it is what puts Duncan on the map.

"People want to be around other people. Being at home is very hard emotionally for people," he added. "Getting out and being social with people is good for everyone."

But after having to cancel Ribfest last year, there's room for optimism.

"Only (way) we can go is up from here," Oppliger said.

Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at carolyn.komatsoulis@lee.net.


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