The show won’t go on for the Ohio State Fair, which has canceled public admission for its 2021 installment in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On April 8, the Ohio Expositions Commission announced that the annual event in Columbus will open only in a very limited capacity to agricultural competition exhibitors and families. Members of the commission cited public health and financial concerns for the decision.
“Where we are today in this battle makes it challenging to plan a large-scale entertainment event, not knowing where we will be, or what Ohio will look like, in late July,” Virgil Strickler, Ohio State Fair general manager, said in a release.
“In addition, the important safety protocols that have been put in place to protect Ohioans, like indoor seating capacities, may lead to attendance that is considerably lower than previous years,” Strickler continued. “The financial ramifications of hosting a typical Ohio State Fair with the same overhead costs, but far less revenue, could be devastating to our organization. In a typical year, the Ohio State Fair’s budget is designed to break even, with a nominal profit, if any. Hosting a full fair this year would likely lead to significant financial loss.”
The 2021 incarnation of the fair will not have rides, concerts or shopping, the release noted. Details about competitions will be shared soon, Strickler said, but the commission anticipates livestock competition beginning July 19.
The Ohio State Fair also was canceled in 2020.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ended COVID-19 safety restrictions on outdoor mass gatherings on April 5. As CityBeat reported then, festivals, graduations, proms and other congregations may occur so long as basic public health measures — masking, physical distancing, handwashing, etc. — are followed. According to the order, indoor facilities with fixed seating still have to operate at 25% capacity.
During a briefing on April 8, DeWine put the onus on event organizers to figure out logistics for mitigating safety concerns. Traditionally, this has meant asking attendees to wear masks, grouping attendees in pods, mandating at least six feet of distance between groups, adding crowd-distancing infrastructure and providing ample sanitizing or hand-washing stations.
“If you look at fairs and you look at festivals, we’re asking the people who run these events to do the signage, to put the signs up, to have an expectation that people will, in fact, wear a mask,” DeWine said.
DeWine said that he’ll soon ask the Ohio Legislature to allocate some federal funds to the Ohio State Fair to help address its financial woes. He also said that all of Ohio’s counties have been given guidance regarding individual county fairs, saying “We anticipate that all county fairs and all independent fairs will be able to have full fairs.”
Hamilton County canceled its fair for 2020 and has not yet indicated if it will return in 2021.
During the April 8 briefing, DeWine and Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer at the Ohio Department of Health, warned of Ohio's growing number of coronavirus variant cases. Vanderhoff said that he expects the B117 variant to become the dominant virus within the next few weeks and that those affected by a variant virus often end up being sicker than they might with the original virus.
As of April 7 figures on Ohio’s coronavirus dashboard, Ohio has had a total of 1,033,606 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, 53,841 hospitalizations and 7,506 intensive care unit admissions.
More than half of Ohio’s counties — 53 of them — have seen a significant increase in cases recently, as shown on Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System map.
Earlier this week, Hamilton County announced its goal of vaccinating 80% of the county’s population by July 4.