RodeoHouston shutdown signaled the start of the pandemic, could its return mean the end?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Two years ago, the shutdown of RodeoHouston signaled the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rodeo's return this year is something that health experts said could signal the end of the pandemic.

LARGE SCALE EVENTS RETURN NEXT MONTH DESPITE RISING CASES

Next month, two large-scale events that haven't taken place during the pandemic return to the Houston area. RodeoHouston and Mardi Gras in Galveston return in February.

Right now, there's a surge of COVID cases, and hospitalizations. Texas is reporting case numbers the state has never experienced. Despite this, Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse believes large-scale events next month could be good to return.

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Persse believes omicron cases will peak by late January based on information from other countries.

"If that's the case, when these waves start going down they're going down for a reason - because the virus is finding it much more difficult to spread," Persse explained. "If that's the case, then a large gathering, like the rodeo, won't be as much of a risk."

Persse said March 2022 is very different from March 2020. People ages five and older can get a vaccine, plus there are therapeutics and a new COVID pill.

"We're at the point now where a lot of these events are able to occur," Persse said. "This does not mean that we drop our guard, however."

THE PANDEMIC STARTED WITH THE CLOSURE OF THE RODEO, COULD ITS RETURN MEANS THE END OF THE PANDEMIC?

With rising COVID cases, it may seem hard to believe the end of the pandemic could be near. But Persse said it's possible.

"If we don't get another variant, I will see it largely ending in the next couple months," Persse explained. "It's going to take a while for this current wave, even if it goes up, there will still be a tail to it, there always is, for it to completely burn out."

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Persse believes numbers will decline, and no new variant could bring an end. That said, he adds that the next few weeks will be difficult and cases and hospitalizations will climb.

He's urging Houstonians to practice what they've done for nearly two years.

HOUSTONRODEO HAS IMPLEMENTED COVID CHANGES TO PROTECT GUESTS

The rodeo made changes as COVID-19 first hit our area in 2020. When the rodeo returns, even more changes will be made.

The event will feature double the amount of hand sanitizer stations. There will be increased cleaning of the frequently touched place, including handrails, doorknobs and faucets.

There's new signage in the restrooms encouraging people to wash their hands. They'll also direct staff and volunteers showing any symptoms to stay home.

The large-scale rodeo hasn't returned since it was shut down in 2020, but there have been smaller RodeoHouston events. Persse said the health department has observed those events.

"We've not seen their events be super spreader events," Persse said. "Working with them when it comes to the big show, to the three-week event, I am confident they will have all kinds of things in place and many, many ways to minimize viral spread."

DIFFERENT THAN SPORTING EVENTS

For more than a year, large-scale sporting events have been allowed to return. Persse said those are different from Mardi Gras and the rodeo.

"The thing that's different about the rodeo versus, say, an Astros game is an Astros game lasts for three hours," Persse said. "The rodeo lasts for three weeks."

However, those large-scale events, for the most part, haven't been super spreader events. He said it's possible to hold large events and have them done safely.

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If you plan to attend, Persse said to make sure you're vaccinated. Also, if you have a young child that isn't, have them wear a mask.

"We're at the point now, where a lot of these events are able to occur," Persse said. "This does not mean that we drop our guard, however."

COULD RODEOHOUSTON BE CANCELLED?

There are no plans to cancel the rodeo at this point, however, Persse said if COVID cases and hospitalizations don't improve by mid-February, a discussion will take place.

Persse said there isn't one metric that would trigger this. It's a series of factors, from cases to hospital capacity.

"Hopefully, that's not the case. But my experience with the folks that run the rodeo is they're extremely responsible and they're really community-oriented and so they may have some tough decisions to make," Persse said.

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