Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine admonished fair managers across the state Wednesday for what he saw as evidence the state’s guidelines for holding fairs this summer are not being followed at some county fairs.
“As we had the coronavirus, living with coronavirus, our goal was still to try to provide an outlet for young people who are in 4-H (and) FFA who participate in junior fairs around the state,” DeWine said during a press conference. “This is something that is important to many, many families. It’s part of their summer activity. Some kids have raised a steer for a number of months, a long time. Other kids get lambs in the spring and they raise them. Other kids are doing rocketry. They might be doing something electrical. They might be doing a project connected with photography and so many other things.”
In hopes of allowing fairs to go on this summer despite the continued presence of the coronavirus, the state released and then revised guidelines for counties to follow.
They were meant to discourage large gatherings but allow projects to be shown and sold in similar fashion to a normal year with exceptions that include participants and spectators maintaining social distancing, judges wearing masks and family members being given priority in seating areas.
Grandstand events are allowed, though only at half capacity or less than 2,500 people (whichever is smaller).
“What we have unfortunately started to see is some fairs that were not following that,” DeWine said. “Some were, some were not. We saw things like we have one county fair that we so far know of 19 cases that arose out of that county fair. We’ve also seen pictures of some fairs where people were not social distancing. We’ve seen grandstands full of people, so I got on the phone today and talked to all of the folks from every fair. We spent about an hour together, had a very good, candid conversation.
“We want these fairs to continue, but they have to follow the rules and so they also have to follow what the local health department says, and so I think we had a good understanding of that conversation today.”
Clark County Fair executive director Dean Blair was on the call and said he felt good about it.
“We were reminded to make our people compliant,” he said Wednesday, two days before exhibitors are to begin moving into the fair in Springfield. “Otherwise our grounds may not be able to continue. The health department’s legally in charge, has the ability to shut us. We were encouraged for junior fairs, we were encouraged on showing our animals in our own county and reminded that, you know, our bleacher and grandstand rules are very clear and the governor basically said it’s not acceptable what’s happening at a lot of fairs.”
The board announced in early June it would hold only a junior fair, a decision that has drawn some criticism as some other counties in the vicinity have or will attempt to have fairs with some grandstand events and entertainment.
“I’m pretty happy to be where we’re at it,” Blair said. “I feel like we’re doing the right thing, the safe thing, the smart thing and the financially prudent thing. Those were all the decisions are what caused us to have all the reasons why we made the decision we made and I just I feel good about it.”
The Clark County Fair is scheduled to begin Saturday and run through Wednesday while the Champaign County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 7-14 in Urbana with grandstand events.
DeWine, who lives in Greene County and regularly attends that fair scheduled to begin in Xenia on Aug. 4, noted the state made $50,000 available to each county that agreed to hold a junior fair this year. That was in hopes of offsetting some added costs of implementing social distancing practices and stepping up measures to maintain hygiene.
“We do not want to be in a position — and I know local health departments do not want to be in a position — to close fairs, either in the middle of the fair or before the fair,” DeWine said. “But folks running the fairs, fair boards, everybody is going to have to run their own fair basically, so if you’ve got too many people in that fairgrounds and they can’t be keeping social distancing, then fairs are going to have to simply shut the doors and not let more people in.
“Again, this is something between the local fair and the local health department and I’m confident that people can get this worked out.”