Wear a mask. Wash your hands frequently. Practice social distancing.
Those are words that have been repeated for the past four months as the world has learned to live under a “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic. And those are the words organizers for the Howard County 4-H Fair wants visitors to remember and follow.
This year’s fair is expected to be the largest in the state due to nearly every other county canceling its fair, including the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. Some events, including the bike rodeo and some 4-H competitions have taken place over the last week.
Organizers are expecting hundreds to visit Greentown on a daily basis next week when the rides, other attractions and food vendors open to the public Monday, though exactly how many people show up is anyone’s guess given the unique circumstances.
“A government official came out today to check things, and he told us ‘You’re either going to have 5,000 or 5 million people,’” said Bryan Kirkpatrick a fair committee member and its secretary.
The fair comes at a time when Indiana is experiencing an increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19. On Friday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 748 new cases, marking the biggest increase since May 5 when 831 cases were reported. The state’s record number of confirmed cases in a day is 950 on April 27.
Howard County’s seven-day average has stayed relatively the same, hovering between four to five new cases a day since June 10, though the county saw an increase of 12 confirmed cases between Thursday and Friday. Local deaths have stayed flat and local hospitalizations have been more than manageable, though.
So how safe is it to go to the fair? County and fair officials are letting residents answer that question for themselves.
“It’s a personal decision to go and do things now,” Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said. “People are trying to get back to their lives and the things they enjoy. We just have to understand that comes with some risk because the virus is still in our community. If you’re at all nervous about that, then stay home.”
To lower the possibility of COVID-19 outbreak due to the fair, it must follow certain guidelines under Gov. Eric Holcomb’s most recent executive order.
Under that order and Stage 4.5 in his Back on Track Indiana plan, indoor occupancy at fairs must not exceed 50% and outdoor activities “must ensure social distancing can be achieved and maintained and sanitation measures are implemented.”
To adhere to those guidelines, the fair committee has made the distance between some booths larger, removed some rows in bleachers and made walkways rows wider. Midway rides will be wiped down and sanitized between each ride and people waiting in lines will be required to stay 6 feet apart from others in line. The fair’s sanitation and social distancing guidelines were reviewed by the Howard County Health Department and was given the OK.
‘We’re doing about everything we possibly can,” Kirkpatrick said.
Masks are required inside any fairground or 4-H building and signs have been hung up to remind visitors. But if outside, masks are not required but highly recommended.
Kirkpatrick said there will be more food vendors than usual since the majority of other county fairs have been canceled. All food vendors will be required to follow the state’s COVID-19 guidelines for restaurants, which include extra sanitation of surfaces, requiring employees to wear face coverings and requiring customers in line to stay 6 feet between each other.
Brook Milburn, the environmental health director at the Howard County Health Department, told the Tribune his department will be occasionally checking in on food vendors throughout the week to make sure guidelines are being followed and will also be following up on any complaints it receives.