There will be no regular Great Geauga County Fair this year, only a junior fair because of a new COVID-19 protection order issued by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday.
Only junior fairs can be held in Ohio from this point on because of a significant increase in Ohio coronavirus cases, Gov. DeWine said during a press conference. Nearly 86,497 cases had been reported to the Ohio Department of Health Tuesday when Gov. DeWine made his decision. A deciding factor was the 3,382 deaths also reported Tuesday, 38 more than Monday, and a steady increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state.
During a news conference, Gov. DeWine said his “difficult decision” specifically limits activities to junior fair livestock competitions conducted for 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America groups, as well as other junior fair contests.
An unhappy Geauga County Fair Board reviewed the order at a regular Tuesday meeting but did not publicly discuss or make a decision about the junior fair activities. This will be the first time in the fair’s 198-year-history that a full fair will not occur.
Last week, a fair spokeswoman said plans were in the works for a virtual junior fair livestock sale with no audience. The families of contestants, however, would be allowed to attend.
Fair Board Secretary Paul Harris declined to discuss plans for the junior fair or the governor’s decision. He referred those inquiring to the news release posted Wednesday morning on the fair board’s website.
“The directors of the Great Geauga County Fair were shocked and deeply saddened at the most recent order from Gov. DeWine,” the statement said. “The fair board has worked in good faith with the mandates from Gov. DeWine and developed a plan to move forward with a safe and enjoyable event for those choosing to attend and participate.
“His decision to change the rules in midstream is troubling at best. Please be patient as we review the options in the coming days. Monitor the fair website for updates as they become available. Thank you for the overwhelming calls and emails of support,” the statement ended.
Geauga County Health Commissioner Thomas Quade said he agreed with Gov.DeWine’s order, especially since it coincides with a recommendation made by the county health board last week to only hold a junior fair.
“I absolutely think it is the right decision especially because it is important that we not have many cases in Geauga County,” Mr. Quade said. “Right now, we’re still getting three to five more cases a day and that only represents a small fraction of the people. We’re still in relatively good shape, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” the health commissioner said. “Having the fair would have been an added risk, especially just before the start of school.”
The fair was scheduled to run over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-7.
Some health board members wanted to cancel the fair, Mr. Quade said, but the majority recommended a junior fair only.
“So I think what the governor did was very reassuring and validates the recommendation we made to the fair board,” Mr. Quade said. “We did not want to get into a contest about who had the authority to do this or that. Rather, we left it up to them to make their own decision.
“What we did was provide professional guidance we thought was in the best interest of the county,” he added.
Mr. Quade also said he would like fair officials to provide details about the junior fair.
Alternatives for the 198th consecutive fair had been previously planned such as eliminating events that draw the large crowds where the virus could more easily spread. They included cancellation of a high school Band-O-Rama, Geauga Learn, the highly-popular “Senior Hang-out” on Senior Day at the Howard Vernon Pavilion and all fairgrounds acts, strolling shows and performances by musicians.
Fair boards in Lake, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga and many other counties decided in late spring to cancel their full fairs and in some cases opt only for a junior fair as had been recommended by Gov. DeWine. It was not a decision that the Geauga County Fair Board wanted to make then unless they were forced to do so, according to a fair source.
Never has a Geauga County Fair not been held since its start in 1823. Considered an end-of-summer tradition by many county residents, it was held during the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression and other bad times in American history.
A spokesman for Gov. DeWine’s office said the decision was “reluctantly made” after consultation with Ohio Department of Health officials who have been closely watching a “rapid increase” in COVID-19 cases. Furthermore, the governor’s decision to prohibit regular fairs could not have been made on a county-by-county basis because there have been several COVID-19 outbreaks linked to crowds and people who do not wear masks at county fairs, the spokesman said.
Masks are now required for all in public settings around Ohio.
While not specifically mentioning the Great Geauga County Fair, Mr. Quade previously issued a public warning about the potential danger of contracting COVID-19 while in the presence of large crowds at different kinds of events, including fairs.
Like Gov. DeWine, Mr. Quade has expressed concerns about the growing number of people who fail to wear protective face masks, some of whom may be asymptomatic but could infect others, especially in a large crowd, he explained.