Ohio loosens fair guidelines

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fair sunset
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

The state of Ohio is relaxing fair guidelines, following several fair cancellations after Gov. Mike DeWine released the original guidelines for this year at the end of May.

Some fair officials believed the original guidelines, released May 28, were overly restrictive. Additionally, while some fair boards considered holding junior fairs only, many indicated that junior fairs are too expensive to hold without revenue from senior fair events, especially with added costs brought on by guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.

In response, the state released the new guidelines June 9, along with a letter to fair boards offering more funding for junior fairs, and indicating that fairs that have canceled can change their minds.

Funding and scheduling

“We know that in this summer of the coronavirus, it will be hard to conduct junior fairs in a manner that is safe for everyone, but also that will work financially,” reads the letter, signed by DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, and Ohio House and Senate leaders.

So, each fair that has a junior fair will receive $50,000 to help them operate safely. Each fair that does not have a junior fair will receive $15,000 to put towards the 2021 fair season.

“If you have canceled your fair, you can apply for a new date with the Ohio Department of Agriculture,” the letter adds.

Howard Call, of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, noted that fair boards and managers have been planning for the 2020 season since the end of the 2019 fair season, before they were interrupted by the virus in March. He expects that some fairs that have canceled will reconsider.

“The planning was done,” Call said. “It shouldn’t be hard to get the plans out, dust them off, and let’s go.”

The letter adds that the previous guidelines, based on a working group’s recommendations, can be used as guidance for the fair season, but following the new guidelines will satisfy public health obligations.

Impossible

Call said some of the original guidelines were simply not doable.

For example, the old guidelines required touch-free faucets in restrooms. Many fairs don’t have these faucets, and, Call said, buying them typically requires a four-month lead time.

“There were provisions in there that were almost impossible to meet in the mandatory side,” Call said.

New guidelines

The new guidelines said fair boards should try to discourage large gatherings of people on midways and other parts of the fair grounds, providing one-way traffic in buildings where possible.

While the original guidelines limited livestock shows to having 10 people in the ring at once, the new guidelines just say that exhibitors, spectators and judges should remain six feet apart, when possible.

Masks, which were previously required for fair employees, volunteers and participants, are now simply recommended for judges when they are close to participants. Microphones must be sanitized between each user.

For all spectators, families should group together and stay six feet away from other families.

The guidelines say fair boards should also consider virtual auctions, though they are not required, and guidelines for shows should also be used during any live auctions. There do not appear to be any restrictions on having livestock in the sale ring.

The original guidelines did not mention grandstand events. The new guidelines indicate that no grandstand event should have more than 2,500 seated spectators, and all grandstands are limited to half of their full capacity for seating.

Food concessions must follow the same guidelines as restaurants, and fairs that have amusement rides must comply with all department of health and department of agriculture orders.

The new guidelines also do not limit building capacities. The sanitation and hygiene requirements are much looser. They simply require that fairs provide and maintain sanitation stations in addition to restrooms near food concessions and in barns, and that all those involved with the fair should practice good hygiene, social distance when possible and stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

The full list of new guidelines is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/County-Fairs.pdf.

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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