MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minnesota State Fair says that, while there are no official mandates regarding the upcoming fair in terms of the surging COVID-19 pandemic, guests are urged to "do the right thing" when it comes to doing what they can to maintain a safe environment.
Organizers admit, with the Delta variant spreading, this is not the ideal time to have a State Fair. But they took a close look at sporting events and concerts and determined the "Great Minnesota Get-Together" would go on, but hopefully with everyone doing their part to keep people safe.
"We understand that by urging rather than requiring people to follow current guidance, many of our usual fair fans will not be comfortable attending. We ask that those who attend do so because they are willing to follow our health guidance," fair officials said in a release Wednesday.
First, the fair urges those considering a visit this year take their own health situations into consideration, and to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending.
"Before you visit, make sure you've considered your personal health situation and how you can best keep yourself and those close to you safe and healthy. The Minnesota Department of Health advises individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated for COVID-19, immunocompromised individuals and their caregivers to reduce their risk by using layered protections such as avoiding large gatherings and wearing a face mask indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible," fair officials said. "If you're fully vaccinated, thank you! That's the best thing you can do for yourself and for everyone."
The fair noted that the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are among the unvaccinated.
The fair is not asking anyone to show proof of vaccination, nor are they asking for a recent negative COVID test. There are no attendance limits being imposed.
"We got through one year out of business, so that's why its so very important that we do everything right this year so the fair can continue," executive vice president and general manager Jerry Hammer said.
The fair is asking that guests wear face coverings indoors, as well as outdoors in more crowded settings. The fair pointed out that there may also be independent vendor booths that require everyone to wear masks.
"A mandate is possible in a very controlled environment like a classroom maybe, or a government building, but in a festival-ground or a park or a fairground it's really a huge challenge," Hammer said.
In contrast to previous years when each attendance record broken has been observed and celebrated, this year organizers are suggesting that people consider skipping weekends and instead make plans to attend on weekdays, which they say traditionally have fewer than half as many guests as weekends.
The fair is also working to implement a "Gopher Gauge," or a virtual crowd meter that will help people determine when they should or should not attend. Ultimately, the fair suggests that people spread out and socially distance as they can.
"The State Fairgrounds are huge, and most activities are outdoors where social distancing is much easier. We've created more space in some high-traffic areas and added hundreds of benches and tables. There's also more open space in exhibit buildings this year with fewer livestock and commercial exhibits," fair officials say.
Finally, organizers say guests should always try to "follow the Golden Rule."
"We're all in this together," officials said. "And please remember that everyone is short-staffed, including at the fair. Please be kind to those who showed up."
In response to Wednesday's news, a group of Minnesota senators and representatives sent a letter to the Minnesota State Agricultural Society and State Fair Board of Managers urging them to reconsider, and instead implement a mandatory mask policy.
"The gold standard would be to require all attendees be vaccinated, but short of that, we ask that you set a clear and strong policy requiring masks for all attendees," the group including Reps. Kelly Morrison and Liz Boldon and Sens. Matt Klein, Chris Eaton and Erin Murphy wrote. "Because the traditional start of school coincides with the State Fair, the combination of these two important events adds undue risk for students, educators, and staff who want and need to return to the classroom. Universal masking will provide Minnesotans with confidence that they can attend safely; without this attendance will surely suffer."
The lack of mandates has made some longtime vendors decide not to take part in this year's fair. Minnesotans with Disabilities is just one of the groups who decided it wasn't in their best interest to attend.
"They are not only ones. There are a number of exhibits, especially in the education building, institutional exhibits that have questions and concerns. And in that case that's absolutely fine. We don't want anybody here who doesn't want to be here," Hammer said.
If you purchased tickets ahead of time and decide not to attend, there is a process online to get your money back.
The Minnesota Department of Health and Ramsey County will offer free vaccines in the fair's north-end event center for anyone who wants one. And that may be a good idea, with 14 new social setting outbreaks reported by the MDH, three at festivals and fairs.
The Minnesota State Fair begins one week from Thursday.
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