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US festivals sue health dept as infections hit record high

Organisers of two Ohio music festivals are suing local health officials for a statewide ban on music festivals, in a month that has seen multiple US states report record-high infection levels.

All 50 US states have now begun to reopen in some way following lockdown. Since the beginning of June, reports the Washington Post, 14 states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah – as well as Puerto Rico, have seen their highest-ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases.

In Ohio, where a stay-at-home order expired on 29 May, a current ban on mass gatherings, including “parades, fairs and festivals”, has caused promoters ESK Presents, organiser of the cancelled Bellwether Music Festival, and Project Live, of the postponed Country Fest, to seek legal action.

Organisers of two Ohio music festivals are suing local health officials for a statewide ban on music festivals

Organisers allege that the ban on events violates the first amendment rights – free speech – of organisers, performers and public and are suing officials Ohio’s former health department director, Dr Amy Acton, and the Stark and Warren county health authorities.

The lawsuit, which was filed on 11 June, the same day Acton resigned from her position, also lists Mark W Miller, who “desires to attend and camp” at this year’s Bellwether, as a plaintiff.

The plaintiffs argue that the restrictions are “baseless” and contest the number of infections reported by authorities in Ohio.

According to the document filed, Bellwether organisers have spent US$400,000 on artists’ contracts for the 2020 event, which was to feature John Moreland, Davy Knowles and the Growlers, with Country Fest reportedly spending $2 million on acts including Brett Eldredge, the Cadillac Three, Niko Moon and Teddy Robb.

The promoters are seeking declaratory judgment declaring that the orders and decrees prohibiting public gatherings are invalid, as well as the award of ‘at least nominal damages’ and attorney fees.


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