Noah’s Ark manager fired following email calling coronavirus ‘phantom China virus’

Photo: Nick Paradise (Kennywood Park)

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. —  The general manager of Noah’s Ark was fired this week after referring to the coronavirus as “phantom China virus” in an email to Sauk County officials.

Mark Whitfield, the former general manager, made the comment Monday while addressing the possibility of a mandatory face mask policy in Sauk County.

“No one has died of the phantom China virus since March,” Whitfield said, adding that Sauk, Columbia and Adams counties have been “free areas” of the state since mid-May.

Whitfield also believes Sauk County’s “economy would collapse” if a mandatory mask mandate was put into place. Whitfield said the county should not be in the business of mandating what citizens can wear in public, referring to the possible policy as a “slippery slope to someone mandating women wearing hijabs.”

Whitfield cited religious and medical reasons for why he personally did not support the policy.

“I also have a religious problem with it… the mark of the beast,” Whitfield said.

Palace Entertainment, the company that owns Noah’s Ark Water Park, issued a statement saying Whitfield was no longer employed for the company.

The statement said in part, “We understand the challenges local governments face in trying to protect their constituents in these uncertain times. Noah’s Ark and Palace Entertainment commit to comply with local, state and federal guidelines, and support our local leaders as they serve the public health needs of the community.”

You can read the full statement from Noah’s Ark by opening up this file.

Bill Lentz, the Vice President of Water Parks for Palace Entertainment, also said the safety of guests and staff is a top priority at Noah’s Ark. Staff has implemented several safety measures, such as capacity limits and hand-sanitizing stations, to help stop the spread of COVID-19. You can read about the new safety efforts at this link.

News 3 Now spoke to Whitfield about those safety practices over the Fourth of July weekend. The park opened for the 2020 season on June 20.

Sauk County Health Director Tim Lawther told our partners at WTMJ 4 in Milwaukee that he was surprised by the letter because Noah’s Ark has been working with the health department on ways to operate safely during the pandemic.

He also addressed Whitfield’s comments regarding the low death rates in Sauk County and surrounding communities. As of Friday morning, three deaths in the county have been linked to coronavirus.

“It is unfortunate people are lamenting conspiracy theories about whether this is real,” Lawther said to WTMJ 4.

“I can assure you that the 259 that have been diagnosed with coronavirus find it very, very real. The 73 people who have active coronavirus right now find it real. And our data comes from the test results.”

The email Mark Whitfield sent can be read by opening this file.