WAPAKONETA – Auglaize County Fair Director Ed Doenges said Friday visitors will find clear social distancing guidelines when they attend the fair Aug. 2 to 8. He said visitors will also be expected to honor the mandatory mask requirements.
The fair board met in special session Thursday night to adopt changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional social distancing guidelines were implemented by the fair board after a teleconference meeting with all fair leaders and directors and Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday.
The governor asked fair leaders to tighten social distancing guidelines as coronavirus infections spiked after some fairs opened with looser restrictions.
As a result, the Auglaize County Fair Board announced changes in how they control crowds and enforce social distancing.
For example, armbands will be used to limit the number of people with access to the grandstand.
“Starting at 3 p.m. the day of the event, we will begin to hand out a limited number of armbands that will allow access to the grandstand,” said Doenges.
Inside the grandstand, visitors will find that every other row of seating in the bleachers are blocked off. Family members are asked to sit together to maximize space available.
Doenges said, in order to get back the lost seating, they will allow free seating on the track. Normally, they charge $5 per seat.
In regards to the junior fair, where young people exhibit their animals, social distancing is encouraged in a number of ways.
For example, in the livestock area, Doenges said, “Families are asked to stay in the arena only while their kids are exhibiting. Once their exhibit is done, the family is asked to move out so the next family can come in so there is enough space for social distance.”
Similar restrictions are in place for the barns.
“When it is show time and weigh in, we ask that only the exhibitor and one other family member be inside,” he said. “I know that in the past, this is a family event, but this year is different.”
Doenges said this is not the year for families to camp in the barn.
“We know they want to be with their animals but COVID is not going to go away and we need to keep each other safe by not crowding together.”
He said signs for one-way traffic through the barns and commercial buildings will show the direction of traffic through the buildings and every entrance will have sanitation stations.
Other areas will see social spacing through spread out seating.
This year, the gospel tent has been doubled in size to allow the same number of seats as in the past. The beer tent and free tents will have picnic tables widely spaced.
Doenges said the fair schedule is only available online this year at https://auglaizecountyfair.org/.
“We decided to not do a print version, because of potential changes that could still occur.”
The changes at the Auglaize County fair began after the Wednesday conference call with DeWine.
“We’ve seen photos of packed grandstands and little social distancing,” said DeWine during his Wednesday press briefing. He said he want fairs to continue, but the fairs must follow the rules.
The governor said their 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.
However the governor said the fate of Ohio youth returning to school in the fall rests on the operations of Ohio’s fairs the remainder of the season.
“We are really at a crucial stage in Ohio. What you do at your fairs determines if kids are back in school this fall,” DeWine said.
The governor said Responsible RestartOhio orders for county and independent fairs were the key to keeping control of the virus.
“We’ve got to get control of this,” DeWine said. “If fairs are going to continue, you all are going to have to control the crowd and make sure everyone is wearing a mask….What we’ve seen so far is unacceptable.”
Although not mentioned in the Responsible RestartOhio guidance, DeWine did clarify fair boards are expected to work with their local health departments.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.