County fair boards across Ohio breathed a sigh of relief last week when Gov. Mike DeWine gave them the good news that they would likely be able to hold fairs this summer after having to cancel all but junior events in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul Harris, secretary of the board that runs the Great Geauga County Fair and vice president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, said the groups have been working with Gov. DeWine on new guidelines and submitted many for review.
“Obviously, it was a relief, we needed to know sooner than later,” Mr. Harris said. “I mean it takes a full year to plan a fair and before this year’s fair is over, we’re already planning for the next one.”
The revised Ohio Department of Health order allows for the reopening of all fair activities if certain health conditions are met and is expected to provide guidance regarding festivals, parades, proms and spring sports.
“So here we are already in the middle of March and we need to get something put in place, so we’re very relieved and very happy,” Mr. Harris said.
Last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, state health officials were concerned about large gatherings and as a result full county fairs statewide were limited to junior fairs only.
Geauga officials said they were disappointed since they were within weeks from the start of the fair when they learned on Aug. 10, 2020 that plans had to be changed.
“You know, we were less than a month away from the fair when we met that challenge,” said Mr. Harris. “I think that we provided some junior fair activities and stuff for our youth and extra stuff along the way that was a success.”
Mr. Harris said people were happy with what they were able to provide last year, but it was not what they wanted. “It’s definitely a relief to think that we’re going to be able to get back in the game here.”
The updated Ohio Department of Health order includes compliance with the statewide mask order and social distancing depending on where the state’s case numbers are at that point.
Additionally, there will be a 25-percent maximum for indoor grandstand capacity and a 30-percent maximum for outdoor grandstand capacity.
Mr. Harris said fair planners intend to meet or exceed the governor’s expectations. “I’m hoping that he continues to release the restriction on grandstand seating. I think that it’s too low and I don’t think it needs to be that low, so we will see how things progress this summer,” he said.
Prior to hearing from the governor, the fair board already had plans penciled in for a full fair and budgets in place as well as entertainment rolled over from last year.
“Our entertainment committee had already started working and the ‘what if’ scenarios planned out, so what if he said go, we would be on board and go,” said Mr. Harris. “We’re jumping in about midstream here, but we’re moving forward just like we always do.”
Fair officials expect good attendance. “Our numbers should be up, people sat out last year, they want to get back into business and get back into the fair, so I think it will exceed the past,” said Mr. Harris.
Fair officials are familiar with being able to keep the public safe and will continue to do so, he said. Last year, increased cleaning facility signage was added including hand sanitizing stations. More stations are being planned for this coming year, Mr. Harris said.
“I don’t see any reason to go backwards on that, once it’s in place there is no reason to kick it back, so we will continue to stress cleaning sanitation in a healthy, happy atmosphere for everybody,” said Mr. Harris.
Over a typical five-day period, the fair sees upwards of 200,000 people in attendance each year.
“This isn’t something new, we’ve dealt with things like this for years at fairs when you have large groups of people you always have to be conscious of the health and safety of the public as they are coming in and moving around,” said Mr. Harris. “As far as COVID-19 is concerned, we will definitely go the extra mile on that one and make sure everybody continues to stay safe.”