The welcome banners and screens are already up at the Georgia World Congress Center for the expected 40,000 visitors coming to Atlanta for a national cheer competition this weekend. It's the same site where about three dozen COVID-19 patients are being treated in a separate building. Despite the backlash, organizers maintain the event will be safe.
From Texas and Tennessee to New York and North Carolina, the CheerSport schedule lineup for the weekend shows teams are coming from across more than a dozen states. CBS46 found, at least five of the states like Florida, Texas, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina were among high daily COVID-19 case averages, according to CDC tracking data.
Some teams call Georgia home like Rockstar Cheer; the company is based in Woodstock. Owner Carolyn Garrison is bringing 162 kids to Atlanta this weekend for what's considered to be the Super Bowl for cheerleaders. Garrison called it the most prestigious event.
"Based on the way we know that warm-ups and competitions will be handled, our groups will stay in our own little pod." Garrison said. She continued saying her athletes have worked hard over the season to have this national moment with their families supporting in the live audience.
The owner told CBS46 she believes CheerSport has taken all possible safety measures like having the groups isolated and wearing masks at all times, with the exception of their performance.
"If everyone follows the same protocol we should be able to have an event like this and not have fallout." Adding, "that's what we are hoping will happen."
However, others like Brooke Jordan consider the competition a possible super-spreader. Jordan is a former competitive cheerleader of 16 seasons.
"They could make this competition virtual," she told CBS46.
The 19-year-old knows all about the passion that comes with tumbling and flipping. She performed in this very event years ago. But recently, she lost a cheerleading season to the pandemic after it was cut short, while also losing two relatives to COVID-19.
"I didn't know it was going to be my last season and that really destroyed me but not nearly as bad as the pain of having to bury 2 family members," Jordan said.
The former cheerleader argued the event is irresponsible citing concerns that go beyond the cheer mats--thousand of tourists at businesses, shopping centers, and hotels across the city. A risk the college student says Atlanta cannot afford to take.
"When I used to travel with my cheerleading teams we would all go to one hotel room and hang out or we would all go out to eat." Jordan continued, "I think what's going to happen around the competition is the bigger problem."
Georgia World Congress Center released this statement:
Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s first priority is the health and safety of our team members and guests. We are adhering to all recommended CDC guidelines and executive orders as well as implementing a comprehensive mitigation strategy designed to meet the health and safety challenges presented by COVID. We are confident that our efforts, combined with those of our customers, are creating safe environments for events on our campus.”
For additional context, GWCCA’s comprehensive mitigation efforts, from enhanced cleaning and social distance protocols to training, touchless services, and heightened communication are designed to create a safe environment for all guests and team members who visit our campus. GWCCA, as well as our customers like CHEERSPORT and their event attendees, each play an important role in creating a safe event environment. We collaborate with our customers on a daily basis to inform and educate on new protocols, review and approve safety and infectious disease plans, and develop communication to remind attendees of protocols and guidelines. While we cannot guarantee someone’s safety, we are confident that we are doing all that we can to create a safe environment.
The company over CheerSport wrote to CBS 46:
At Varsity Spirit, the health and safety of our athletes, coaches, employees, families and friends is our top priority. Please see below for all of our event health and safety information.
A spokesperson with the mayor's office said in a statement city permits were not required for the event. But the city expects visitors to wear a mask, follow CDC guidelines and "exercise common sense."