Ohio fair boards are continuing to modify their decisions for 2020, as local health departments and other officials respond to increased COVID-19 cases.
The Stark County Fair announced July 15 it would have a junior fair only, partly in response to a letter from Annmarie Butusov, Canton’s director of environmental health, that recommended canceling the senior fair.
In an open letter posted on Facebook July 17, Wellington, Ohio, mayor Hans Schneider asked the Lorain County Fair Board to cancel the fair, saying that “it’s simply not worth it this year.”
The Lorain County Fair is held in Wellington. So far, fair organizers are still planning a full, modified fair, though some vendors have canceled.
Organizers for the Canfield Fair, which switched to a junior fair only July 7, are continuing to work out details for their 2020 fair plans.
The letter from Butusov stated that rising COVID-19 cases, both locally and state-wide, have been linked to mass gatherings with more than 10 people. In light of this, she recommended limiting the fair to junior fair competitions and auctions.
Dale Klick, Stark County Fair Board president, said this letter came not long after the city health department pulled the plug on a derby that the fair board was planning with the health department’s input, in response to rising cases. The derby was canceled just a day before it was scheduled.
“It kind of set us all back … we don’t want this to happen to the fair,” he said.
In meetings with the health department, as well as in Butusov’s letter, the department recommended going forward with a junior fair only.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that we’re being good stewards to our community,” Klick said.
Schneider’s open letter also noted the increasing cases in Lorain County.
“When you made the decision to move forward with the fair, you did so with the best intentions in mind … you believed you could put on a safe fair,” Schneider wrote. “There is no such thing as a safe fair anymore.”
The fair, Scheider said, often brings 100,000 or more people into the Wellington community, increasing the risk of spreading the virus in the community.
“We face risks every day. I’m asking you not to increase those risks to the residents of this community,” he wrote.
Kim Meyers, president of the Lorain County Fair Board, told Farm and Dairy he did not personally receive a letter from Schneider. He added he has not seen Schneider at any fair board meetings, or received any requests from the mayor to discuss the fair plans for this year.
“He really blind sided all of us by doing it in that way,” Meyers said.
Meyers said the board is still moving forward with a full fair, using safety standards based on guidelines from Gov. Mike Dewine’s office and state and local departments of health. These standards include masks and gloves for fair workers, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing stations and discouraging those who are sick or have been exposed from coming to the fair.
He said the fair has had some opportunities to practice these standards through food drives, drive-thru fair food events and its Independence Day fireworks show this summer.
“The mayor makes reference to a nationwide spike — we don’t look at the nationwide figures,” Meyers said, adding that the fair board is more focused on local figures. “We still believe that we’re fine.”
Lorain County is currently at a Level 3 on Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System, indicating high exposure and spread for the virus.
Klick noted that there’s always the possibility of more COVID-19 case spikes throwing off fair plans again. But, so far, the Stark County Fair Board is planning a full junior fair, open only to junior fair exhibitors and their families.
One of the biggest changes so far, Klick said, is that the fair will be only six days long, instead of seven this year. The board anticipates some changes to the schedule, but is planning to keep it as close as possible to the typical show schedule.
The other big change is that the junior fair sale will be online only this year. Bidding will open Sept. 1 and run through Sept. 4. The board is also working on a plan to livestream shows. These decisions, Klick said, will help limit the number of people coming into the fairgrounds and limit the potential for COVID-19 spread.
While senior fair activities, like grandstand events and rides, typically provide a lot of revenue for the fair, Klick said there are some local companies stepping up to help sponsor the fair this year. Based on tag ins and weigh ins this year, Klick believes that most junior fair exhibitors are still planning to show at the fair this year.
“I think we’re gonna have a great junior fair. I really do,” he said.
So far, Canfield Fair organizers are planning to have shows for as many junior fair projects as possible, not just market animals.
“We’re trying to offer shows and opportunities for all of the kids,” said Kimberly Moff, junior fair manager.
Moff is still hoping to organize displays for some still projects, such as the fashion projects, and to have a Youth Day program to recognize the older youth at the fair and announce the royal court, in addition to the market and non-market livestock projects.
As far as the livestock shows, she is looking at spreading shows and livestock housing out across other buildings that are not being used for the senior fair this year. Moff is hoping to have a junior fair sale that will allow buyers to bid both in-person and online.
Once Moff and other junior fair organizers come up with their plan, the senior fair board will need to approve it. Then, the plans will be finalized. No plans had been finalized as of July 20.
“We’re excited that the fair board is allowing a junior fair show for all of the kids … they have worked so hard,” Moff said.
Moff added that junior fair members are not required to show this year, and can complete their projects without going to the fair, if they choose. But while some junior fair members have dropped out of the fair for this year, many are still planning on showing.
“The numbers will be down a little, but I don’t think they’ll be down a lot,” she said.
The fair will have a new junior fair complex for this season. But, Moff said, this year will give junior fair organizers a chance at a “trial run” in the new location, with less traffic and people, before the senior fair comes back next year.
“The silver lining in all of this is that we’re having the ability to adjust to a new location,” she said.
Moff said that in 30 years of working with the fair, she has never had a year like this.
“This is gonna be a unique year to go down in the record books,” she said. “But again, it’s all worth it at the end of the day if we can make this a pleasant experience for the kids and we can let them participate in the fair.”
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