A growing number of Indiana counties have decided to cancel their county fairs this summer as the state continues to recover and reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Purdue Extension, 20 of 92 Hoosier counties have so far decided to cancel the events.
For thousands of Hoosier children in 4-H, the fair represents an opportunity to highlight their livestock, cooking and craft skills and to be recognized for their efforts.
What’s still unknown is if the Indiana State Fair will continue as planned, which is currently scheduled for August 7-23
“We’re monitoring the situation closely, on a daily basis. We’re looking at other fairs, amusement parks and other large event venues when it comes to their social distancing and safety measures, best practices,” said Sharon Smith, director of communications for the Indiana State Fair Commission. “We’re regularly in touch with the State of Indiana, public health authorities, and our stakeholders. Of course, public safety remains our top priority.”
The uncertainty of the fair board’s ability to keep fairgoers safe from COVID-19 is why many counties have chosen to forego the summertime ritual for thousands of Hoosier 4-H members.
“It’s unprecedented. And we’re working hard to do our best,” said Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension and Senior Associate Dean for the Purdue College of Agriculture. “We knew there would be some difficulties in how to plan for social distancing.”
Purdue Extension, which works with all 92 counties in Indiana, announced May 15 that county 4-H fairs could occur this summer, beginning July 4.
But Henderson said that decision is contingent on local health officials confirming the county has reached the fifth and final stage of “Back on Track Indiana,” the state’s multi-phase reopening plan.
Even though Purdue Extension gave the green light, the ultimate authority still lies with county fair boards and local 4-H leadership.
“There could be a lot of different scenarios. You could have county fair board move forward and have carnival rides and not have certain live events. At the same time, the fair board might say no fair, but hold 4-H events in some other manner,” explained Henderson.
Most counties that have already canceled were scheduled to hold their fairs in June or early July. One of those fairs is the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. According to the Indiana State Festivals Association, it is one of the largest attended events in the state with approximately 250,000 visitors.
Last week, the fair board leadership posted its decision on social media. (Click here to view the video)
“We’ve spent countless days talking through scenarios, hours praying for the health of our communities, and many sleepless nights brainstorming for solutions,” said Miranda Muir, general manager of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. “Unfortunately, even with all that said and all that effort, today we’re sadly tasked with informing you that this year’s…fair has been canceled.”
For many fair boards, the decision is based on money.
“One of the challenges is financial challenges. Just because you put it on, 4-H events or another public event like a fair, it doesn’t mean people are going to show,” said Henderson. “If you have smaller attendance, what happens to your financial viability?”
Purdue Extension is working with county 4-H councils to help them offer virtual options, such as allowing 4-H members to showcase their exhibits and projects online and to be judged in competition.
For counties that do hold fairs, Henderson said to expect to see heavy emphasis placed on disinfecting high traffic areas and offering hand sanitizer and cleaning stations to employees and guests.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Purdue Extension Director Jason Henderson says the decision to cancel can be tough.