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Wisconsin event faces scrutiny after photos emerge of large crowds, little social distancing

Nathaniel Shuda Lydia Slattery
Oshkosh Northwestern

OSHKOSH, Wisc. – An annual event on Lake Butte des Morts in Wisconsin is under scrutiny after photos and videos surfaced over the weekend on social media showing large crowds during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sand Bar Bash, an annual event that benefits Old Glory Honor Flight, was scheduled for Saturday. Photos and videos appeared to show a mass gathering with little social distancing.

Winnebago County health officials urged anyone who attended to be on watch for COVID symptoms and to limit contact with others for 14 days.

The Oshkosh Northwestern, part of the USA TODAY Network, cannot independently verify that all images were from 2020, though time stamps on multiple platforms indicate they were taken Saturday, the day of the event, which was promoted on Facebook and was listed on the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

The sun reflects off the water of Lake Butte des Morts in Wisconsin in this 2012 photo.

A statewide mask mandate that went into effect Saturday applies only indoors.

By Monday morning, photos and videos from the event's official Facebook page, along with the page itself and a related Facebook event, had been removed from the social media platform.

A separate Facebook event organized by "USA Top Event HD" includes a livestream video with the title "Sand Bar Bash llc 2020 Live 2020." However, The Northwestern was unable to access the video.

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Event organizers and the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to interview requests Monday. Late last week, Sheriff John Matz said he would not enforce the state's mask mandate but would forward any reports of violations to the Health Department.

Winnebago County Health Director Doug Gieryn said in a statement, "In regards to reports of a Sandbar Bash on Lake Butte des Morts this weekend, the Winnebago County Health Department encourages anyone who has attended a gathering or event with people from outside of their household, where actions were not taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to monitor for symptoms and limit contact with others for 14 days from the event."

Asymptomatic cases account for 40% of COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes wearing masks and social distancing even more crucial, Gieryn said. 

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