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Area fair boards face uncertainty, scramble to follow governor’s order

Competitors show their hogs in the Swine Arena on Wednesday, the last day of the Clark County Fair. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Competitors show their hogs in the Swine Arena on Wednesday, the last day of the Clark County Fair. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

After months of planning, area county fairs are now working to quickly change their events to be compliant with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order, an order they have yet to see.

On Tuesday, DeWine mandated all fairs in Ohio operate a junior fair only because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of the fairs have done a very good job, but at this point it has become increasingly clear that we cannot have a regular, safe fair in the Ohio summer, the COVID summer, of 2020,” DeWine said at the Tuesday press conference. “We have seen outbreaks connected with fairs, we’ve seen fairs not enforcing any kind of mask order at all... and that’s just a real shame, so it’s clear we cannot have full fairs that are safe.”

Ohio’s hospitals saw their highest number of patients with the coronavirus this week since the pandemic began on March 9.

Data from the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA), shows 1,122 coronavirus-positive patients were being treated in Ohio hospitals on Tuesday, of which 348 were in the ICU and 174 were on a ventilator. The previous high was in late April when the state saw 1,103 patients.

“Our case numbers have remained high during the past month. We know there is a lag between when people are infected with the virus and when they start to feel sick and ultimately are hospitalized,” said Lance Himes, interim director of the Ohio Department of Health. “These numbers are a stark reminder that this virus is very much still with us.

Brian Rismiller, the fair manager for the Darke County Fair, said the fair board would have an emergency meeting to discuss new plans for the fair on Wednesday evening. He and the fair board are still waiting on a signed order from the governor, detailing what exactly is and isn’t allowed.

Rismiller said they still plan to have food at the Darke County Fair and are leaning toward limiting the amount of spectators allowed at the livestock shows. In June the Darke County Fair decided to cancel the concert. Rismiller said the fair will not lose out on money for ride vendors.

On Tuesday, DeWine said no games, rides or grandstand events will be allowed at county fairs.

Rismiller said he was on a phone call with the governor a week ago and he expressed some of the things that he said in his Tuesday press conference to those on the call.

“I kind of had a feeling something like this would come,” Rismiller said.

The Great Darke County Fair is scheduled to run Aug. 21 through Aug. 29. Rismiller said he feels the fair board has enough time to make the necessary changes.

“We are taking things out of the equation, not adding, so I think that we have time to do everything the governor has asked,” Rismiller said.

The Miami County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 14 through Aug. 20.

Nick Shellenberger, the president and manager of the Miami County Agricultural Society, said he is still waiting on a signed order from DeWine.

“There’s a lot more to switching from a full fair to a junior fair,” Shellenberger said. “Is camping permitted? Are food vendors permitted? How many days can people be on the fairgrounds? Unfortunately it’s an hour by hour situation over here.”

Shellenberger said he thinks the fair will have enough time to make the required changes, whatever those specifics may be.

“We don’t know yet what will be asked of us,” Shellenberger said. “We have worked diligently to plan a fair that the community can participate in in a safe manner. We are awaiting the order which was mentioned (Tuesday) concerning county fairs so that we may review it in its entirety.”

Many have expressed disappointment with DeWine’s order, among them is Ohio House Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, who called the governor a “tyrant” after his mandate on Tuesday.

“I am incredibly frustrated and upset,” Powell said. “When you live in a rural area, this is something that’s really important to our community. And it is absolutely absurd that the governor came in and, you know in the last inning, and just completely canceled it without even allowing the fairs to show him how they’ve worked with a plan... how they’ve worked with the local health department as well as the sheriff’s department to ensure the safety of the community.”

ExploreNo rides, food or big events: Greene County fair will now be Junior Fair only

Powell said that fair boards have been working around the clock on planning a safe 2020 fair and there is no way that this late in the game fairs can get back the money, time and planning they have put out.

“My phone has been going off all day with irate people from our community that the governor allows people to riot in front of the Statehouse, throw rocks through the windows, which still have to be boarded up, but won’t allow kids the ability to have a full fair when they are social distancing, they are taking steps to protect the people around them,” Powell said. “It’s absolutely absurd and I have no clue why the governor is choosing to do this.”

Powell said she still plans to go and support the fairs, since children will still be showing their animals.

“Leaders don’t act this way,” Powell said. “I’m not here to tell people that they can’t protest their different things, I welcome protesters in Columbus. I am pushing back on the way that the governor has double standards on violent rioters compared to people in our community that just want to go to a county fair, have a corn dog, talk to their neighbor, build community, sell a couple things for their business and allow their little girl to show their animal at the fair that they have been raising all summer.”

Rismiller echoed Powell’s statements, saying the community is disappointed by the governor’s mandate.

“People are used to what they’re used to,” he said.

Ryan Berry, the executive director of the Darke County Visitors Bureau, said many feel this decision is an “overreach.”

“Most of the county is not happy. People are definitely disappointed in the governor and this decision,” Berry said.

Berry said the Darke County Fair attracts tourism from all over the state and brings in millions of dollars. Not having a full fair “is going to hurt,” he said.

“Obviously, this is a huge hit for Darke County,” Berry said. “With no Eldora racing, no Annie Oakley Days... it’s really just been one hit after another, mostly due to the governor’s orders.”

Shellenberger, in Miami County, said these changes are “creating a lot of havoc in our office.”

“We don’t know how to respond to people who have paid for a fair pass, for camping, to be a vendor,” he said. “We don’t know if they will want to roll over those fees to next year or get a refund. Having a junior fair only is going to put a hurt on our budget. We might have to take away all of the things that bring us revenue. I am heartbroken for the people who were so looking forward to the fair.”