Organizers announced Friday the 2021 Billings Clinic Classic event in downtown Billings- the hospital's largest fundraiser- will not go on because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The outdoor Classic Celebration, slated for Saturday, Aug. 28, is the first big local summer event to be canceled due to a rising number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the community.
"The responsible thing for us to do is to send a message to this community to be mindful of trying to prevent the best we can additional spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant," said the Billings Clinic Foundation president, Jim Duncan.
Billings Clinic officials made the announcement Friday morning at the hospital's Healing Garden.
This year, money raised from the Classic Celebration was going toward a rehaul of the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Parts of the event, including online donations, will continue.
Hospital officials said ticket holders could ask for refunds or donate the money. The Classic has sold out all 26 years of its existence.
Duncan, along with the rest of the Billings Clinic Foundation, the organizing arm of the Classic, said the difficult decision was made after a 36-hour period where the hospital filled fast with Covid-19 patients.
As of Thursday night, Billings Clinic had 33 COVID patients in the hospital, numbers not seen since early 2021, the hospital posted on its Facebook page. Twelve of those patients are in intensive care, which is nearly half of the hospital's 28 ICU beds. Eight patients are on ventilators, all of whom are not vaccinated.
Duncan said the Covid-19 delta variant is highly contagious and growing in the community, and he, his team and hundreds of volunteers that put on the party each year felt they could not add to the already rising numbers of patients and sick community members.
Duncan said the hospital even looked at alternative options to keep partygoers safely separated that night, but they realized that the magic behind the Classic is bringing people together.
Other portions of the 2021 Billings Clinic Classic fundraiser will still move forward. Duncan said that includes seven golf tournaments, and the online silent auction.