Should the Fulton County Fair proceed this fall amid the novel coronavirus pandemic it probably won’t resemble what people are accustomed to.
It’s possible, in fact, that the state’s social distancing restrictions might reduce the event to only 4-H and Junior Fair competitions.
The Fulton County Fair Board is awaiting Ohio’s revision of mandatory COVID-19 regulations for county fairs, due to be released within the next week or two, President Dennis Wyse said. A state guidance document that became available June 2 places limitations on how various fair activities, from concessions to amusement rides, can be operated.
“Till they give us definite stuff in writing we’re not making a decision,” Wyse said. “We’re in limbo, but we’re hoping …maybe things will turn around in this next week and they’ll open up more. It’s a wait and see.”
He said the board will likely hold a meeting in mid-June to make a final decision. But Wyse said even if the fair is approved he’s not optimistic about holding anything close to a traditional version.
“I don’t think the fair can go ahead the way it has,” he said.
Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp agrees. She said it’s possible to hold a fair under the recent guidance document, just not the event fairgoers are expecting. She said due to social distancing regulations they may attend a fair reduced to just Junior Fair and 4-H activities.
“That is reasonable to expect that to happen,” Cupp said. “To look back at what our Fulton County Fair has been in the past…I think it is unrealistic to expect that type of fair to happen this September. The changes that are happening from (a) regulatory standpoint are pretty significant.”
As of June 5, 25 Ohio counties have either fully or partially canceled their annual fairs. Fairs moving forward have been reduced to Junior Fair activities.
The state website recommends that 2020 Ohio county fairs limit their activities solely to those competitions. And those contests are also subjected to stiff COVID-19 rules, such as non-animal exhibits and six-foot spacing in exhibition areas.
“Just that one piece alone tells us we don’t have room to have the type of fair that we usually have because we need to space out people,” Cupp said. She said the county fair board is required to work closely with the local health department and comply with all county fair guidelines in effect at the time of the board’s decision.
As late as May 29, Ohio had still prohibited putting on county fairs this season. Cupp said that restriction may have been eased due to advancements in preparation since the coronavirus first emerged and because of the increased availability of personal protective equipment.
“The virus has not changed,” she said. “What has changed is the capacity for our medical system to care for people that are ill, especially ill with COVID-19. We’re prepared, where we couldn’t necessarily say that in early March.”
She said it’s irrelevant whether COVID-19 restrictions ease up as the year progresses because the fair board is tasked with making a decision under present conditions.
“That is the dilemma, and I feel for the fair board members. It is a tough position to be in because they have to plan now and put decisions in place,” she said. “You become less and less sure as you basically plan for crowds larger and larger. If you want to have some surety it’s planning small, focusing on 4-H and Junior Fair activities.”
Cupp added, “What the fair looks like is, one step no fair, the next step would be Junior Fair and FFA, and the next everything reduced in number and spaced out more. I don’t see the potential of having it as we’re used to it.”
Wyse said the wait for state information necessary to make a decision on whether to hold the fair has been unnecessarily long.
“I am thoroughly upset with the state and this whole charade,” he said. Wyse said he spoke recently with a state official, who agreed with him that “this whole (coronavirus) thing’s blown way out of proportion.”
According to Cupp, whether considering the county fair or any other activity, “there’s nothing in life that we do that is without risk. When it comes to this virus, we’re learning to live with the virus and we have to learn to live with it in a healthy way.”
Taking into consideration that the pandemic is teaching people to take precautions and safety measures, it’s possible to find a way to hold at least the fair’s 4-H and Junior Fair activities, she said.
“We’re finding ways to do the things we enjoy, which is good for our mental health,” Cupp said. “It’s good for having contact with people and having that connection…But again, it really takes each one of us taking that responsibility to be social distancing, if somebody’s asking us to wear a mask to just do that, and being respectful for those around us.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.