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Churchill Downs To Run Fall Meet Amid Surge in COVID-19

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Authentic wins the 2020 Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs plans to open for its 131st Fall Meet this weekend as the state contends with a third surge in COVID-19 infections. 

The racetrack has announced plans to kick off a 24-day stand on Sunday with 11 races. It will be the first time the track has opened to spectators this year. The opening day arrives as Louisville experiences what the White House considers “uncontrolled spread” of COVID-19.

Cases are on the rise around the state and country. Over the last week, Kentucky reported 25.5 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any number over 25 is considered uncontrolled spread.

On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear reported 1,330 new positive cases across the state -- 22% of which were in Jefferson County. 

In a news release on Thursday, the track said it will continue to follow the state’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which do not prohibit the track from opening. 

Following Sunday’s opening day of racing, the track will hold races on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, including on Thanksgiving Day. The track will not offer general admission seats but plans to sell first floor reserved box seats for a general admission price of $5. 

Guests will receive temperature checks upon entering and will be required to fill out medical questionnaires, practice physical distancing and wear face masks while on the premises, according to the release.

"An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the release states. 

In August, Churchill Downs released a 62-page guide on how the track planned to safely manage tens of thousands of guests at the Kentucky Derby. About a week later, the track reversed course and chose to run the race without spectators. 

Because of the current high rate of transmission, the White House recommends ”public and private gatherings should be as small as possible and optimally, not extend beyond immediate family," according to the Oct. 18th report.

Churchill Downs did not immediately respond to a request for an interview on the fall meet.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.