COVID-19 pandemic continues to overshadow 2020 fair season

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Medina Fair livestock sale
Junior fair exhibitors line up before a livestock sale. (Farm and Dairy file photo)
The Harrison County Fair, in Cadiz, Ohio, will only include market animals, and will only be three days long this fair season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s recent extension of the stay-at-home order.
This fair will include only market animal shows and a market animal sale, the fair announced May 6, in a Facebook post. 

The same day, Howard Call, executive director, presented the Ohio Fair Managers Association’s suggestions to help fairs prepare for the 2020 season to the Ohio Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.  

OFMA is hoping that fairs will be able to proceed with no restrictions on total attendance this summer, Call said, though Ohio’s orders on limiting mass gatherings are currently extended through the end of May. Call laid out a number of recommendations from the group, including adding more wash stations, keeping restrooms and offices clean and improving social distancing.

In his testimony, Call confirmed rumors that the Ohio Department of Agriculture has laid off ride inspectors in its division of Amusement Ride Safety and Fairs, in response to budget constraints and amusement park closures. The ODA said it plans to bring ride inspectors back to work once they are needed again.

In the mean time, the pandemic is already affecting decisions on the 2020 fair season for some.

Harrison County

The Harrison County Fair, originally scheduled for June 22-27, will have market shows June 23-25, and a sale June 26. The shows will not be open to the public, and only youth showing market animals and their immediate families will be permitted on the fairgrounds. The sale will only be open to buyers.

There will be no beef feeder calves, breeding animals or showmanship classes, and there will be no camping available.

“The market livestock project purpose is to provide product for the food chain,” the post stated.

The fair is encouraging all who attend to wear facemasks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.

In the future, once it is safe to meet in large groups, the board said it is planning to hold a show for dairy and breeding goat participants and for horse project participants. The board is also planning to hold a family fun day for junior and senior fair members.

The board noted that because things are constantly changing, its new plans could still be forced to change.

“State and local authorities can decide that we must not move forward with these plans,” the post read. 

But for now, the board sees this as its only option, calling it an emotional decision.

“We have exhausted every effort to find ways to implement the safety and health considerations into the plan of activities that are a part of our standard county fair,” the post reads. “The obstacles presented were too great and led us to this alternative option.”

Junior fairs

The first fair to officially cancel was the Marion County Fair, which was scheduled for June 29 through July 4. Call referred to the cancellation as “a tragic loss.”

“Although it appears that our decision was premature, I can guarantee you that it is not,” Keith Seckel, Marion County Fair Board president, said in a May 6 Facebook update. “We, the fair board, believed a decision needed to be made now, as opposed to waiting until the last minute, in order to avoid logistical issues for vendors, amusement operators and fairgoers.”

Marion County, however, still plans to hold single-day junior fair shows this year. Their shows will be in mid July.

The Paulding County Fair, in Defiance, Ohio, also scheduled for June, announced in April that it planned to only hold a junior fair this year. 

OFMA suggested that fairs hold junior fair shows in outdoor rings when possible, break large classes into groups and avoid having youth gather or line up before classes. Call noted that fairs should find ways to accommodate youth who are at a higher risk.

For sales, OFMA said fairs can offer online bidding along with a live auction to cut down on the crowd size, have only youth and no animals in the ring to speed up the sale and encourage early registration.

Other fairs

The Canfield Fair, which is set for Sept. 2-7, is still planning to go ahead as scheduled. In a letter to friends of the fair, Ward Campbell, fair president, said the board will continue adapt and plan for different situations as needed.

The fair recently held a survey to ask people about their plans to attend or not attend the 2020 Canfield Fair. About 86% of the nearly 5,000 respondents said they attended the fair last year. About 73% said they planned to attend this year. About 80% of those who planned not to attend said it was due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

The Putnam County Fair, which is scheduled for June this year, said it was waiting until its June 2 meeting to make any decisions about canceling.

In its board meeting May 6, the Columbiana County Fair Board established a committee to begin considering options if social distancing requirements are still in place. The Columbiana County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 3-9.

Other suggestions

OFMA’s suggestions for improving social distancing include setting up one-way aisles through exhibition buildings and barns, removing seating and common areas in exhibition buildings, barns and camp grounds, spacing food trucks, concession stands and tables and benches in picnic areas further apart and maintaining a six-foot distance for ticket sellers and exhibitors.

For grandstand events, the group suggests requiring masks and reducing seating by 30% for June and July fairs and by 20% for August, September and October fairs. 

Call said fairs can also promote advance sale tickets for grandstand events and for admission, and have ticket sellers wear masks and gloves. The group, however, encouraged fairs not to restrict seating for acts that require bleacher seating or that provide multiple, short shows per day.

OFMA also suggested that fairs either eliminate special attraction days that draw at-risk people, like senior day, or offer a discounted rate and shortened hours for those at a higher risk. 

Call said OFMA is suggesting cutting down the number of rides by 20% and shutting down rides regularly for cleaning. 

Right now, however, the ODA says, the amusement ride industry is shut down, due to limits on mass gatherings. This means that ride inspectors don’t have any inspections to do, and are not collecting inspection fees, which are the main revenue source for the Amusement Ride Safety division.

In addition to the strain from the pandemic, the ODA said it was already operating under a tight budget. 

“When events and places with rides are once again operational, we will have inspectors in place to inspect them prior to opening,” ODA director Dorothy Pelanda said in a statement.

Call noted that rides and games cannot operate without being inspected under Ohio law.

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