Wearing a face mask, Howard Call, executive director of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, stood in front of the Ohio Senate agricultural and natural resources committee May 6 and proposed a litany of alternatives for county fairs this year. Bottom line: it’s about as clear as mud what’s going to happen.
Call said they want to abide by Centers for Disease Control guidelines on large gatherings, but they also want to see if fairs can go on as always, without attendance restrictions. They’re proposing fairs make changes in traffic patterns, restrictions on camping, limits on grandstand activities and not having senior days. Among other things.
It appears fair leaders are hoping for guidelines from Gov. Mike DeWine. According to DeWine, in a press conference May 11, he’s asked fair boards to consider how to preserve junior fairs. There is a working group mulling over what to do as we speak. I think that’s the gist of what’s going on. I think. If you have more clarity, please, enlighten me.
But, see, fair season starts next month. It’s a large part of our coverage every year, and I can’t tell you how we’re going to cover it. We have instructions to give to junior fair committees about submitting winner photos and information for publication. Do we send them? Or do we not? How do we adjust our coverage, if we don’t know how the season will play out? And, heaven help us if every fair has a different approach — which is highly probable, at this point.
Ours is but a small dilemma. Magnify that 3,000-fold and you’ve got the 2020 fair season.
Call laid out the difficulties fair boards are facing. No two county health departments are alike. Not to mention, there are political forces at play, too. Big surprise. The rhetoric is flying fast in Columbus these days. Even during the hearing, senators’ comments made it clear that no one really agrees about much.
These events also face a financial conundrum if amusement rides remain shut down and there are fewer ticket sales and income from other revenue sources. The Canfield Fair reported a survey found that a large percentage of people still plan to attend this year, which is one of the later fairs. But who knows. Especially if the normal attractions are cut.
I get it. Rock. Hard place.
What’s at stake
I understand the fine line leaders walk in times like this. But I also read things. Like the report published May 11, from Reuters: Wuhan has six new cases, after lifting its lockdown. The city plans to test its 11 million residents. Moving past the fact that they’re testing all residents after seeing six new cases, the fact of the matter is, researchers still haven’t figured COVID-19 out, including whether herd immunity is even a thing.
I was one of those junior fair participants back in middle and high school. The Columbiana County Fair, in Lisbon, Ohio, was the highlight of my summer. It’s the reason I started my first business: a club lamb flock. I learned more about responsibility, hard work and perseverance in that setting than any classroom. I love fair season.
But I also know that this year, it puts people in a tough spot. People like my mother, who volunteer their time and energy to help run booths and events, but who also fall into the at-risk category. And I know what it’s like to be one of the young exhibitors. You set your calendar by the fair. Especially for market projects, you plan and you work hard to make sure your animal is ready just in time.
I can’t imagine what this year is like for them. Some can adjust or just decide to retain animals for their own use. Others may have opted out entirely, judging from the number of club lambs and hogs I’ve seen offered at this late date. I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a pass on this year. Either the fairs go on, in some form or another. Or they don’t.
Either way, Ohio’s youth deserves to have some clarity. I hope those in leadership come through, soon.
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