By Matt Reese, Dusty Sonnenberg, Kolt Buchenroth, and Dale Minyo
After planning, re-planning, and changing re-planned plans in the face of incredible obstacles, Ohio’s fairs are still managing to find a way to move forward with junior fair activities.
Since March, Ohio’s fair board members have been on a roller coaster of ever-changing rules and evolving health and safety guidelines. In late May, Gov. Mike DeWine released guidelines for fairs with a heavy emphasis on social distancing, limiting crowds, ensuring the health of people involved, and measures for animal care. The governor encouraged Ohio’s fair boards to work with local health departments on putting on the events within the guidelines at that time.
On Tuesday, June 9, a letter was sent to Ohio Fair Board members from the State government acknowledging the challenges COVID-19 has presented in conducting junior fair activities in a safe manner, and doing it in a way that “works financially.” In revised guidelines, fair boards and managers were given more flexibility to conduct the fair in a manner that discourages the large gathering of people on the midway or other parts of the fair grounds.
To help offset the expense of necessary health and sanitation practices that must be implemented due to the coronavirus, each Ohio fair conducting a junior fair this year received $50,000. Fairs that did not conduct a junior fair this year received $15,000 that can be used towards next year’s fair to help offset the cost of conducting it safely. They also announced on June 9 that if a fair had been canceled, they could apply for a new date with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“We have great fairs in the state of Ohio — independent fairs, county fairs — and our goal this summer was in spite of COVID-19 to try to hold these fairs. Our goal was to focus on the young people,” DeWine said. “To do that, we asked the fairs to discourage the congregation of large groups on the fairgrounds. We laid out some specific guidelines. We also provided each fair $50,000 to help them put on a much safer fair. We have worked with the fairs. We have also worked with the local health departments. Some fairs have done a very good job. As we head into the busiest part of the year with county fairs, it has become increasingly clear that we simply cannot have a safe fair.”
DeWine cited a lack of compliance at fairs with regard to grandstand numbers, social distancing, masks, and limits of people in show barns. As a result, DeWine announced an order for all Ohio fairs starting on July 31 or after to be junior fair only. There will also be a 10 p.m. curfew.
“There are good things going on out there, yet we have seen outbreaks connected with fairs. We have seen a lack of distancing. Even after the mask order was put on we’ve seen fairs clearly not enforcing any mask order at all. That is just a real shame,” DeWine said. “It is clear we cannot have full fairs that are safe. We will preserve the junior fairs, but going forward no grandstand events, no rides, no games, no carnival.”
Of course, the other activities held at a fair are important funding mechanisms for junior fair activities that can be quite costly. Despite the ups and downs of the last few months, fairs are finding a way.
Stay tuned for a series this week on ocj.com highlighting fairs that have found a way to make it work amid the challenges of 2020.