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Maryland State Fair canceled due to coronavirus; some livestock shows will still go on

Maryland State Fair officials said this year’s event at the fairgrounds in Timonium is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“There will be no rides, no racing, no public buildings, no commercial buildings, no indoor entries, no farm and garden entries,” general manager Andy Cashman said Wednesday afternoon. “The only thing we’re going to have at this year’s fair will be the junior and open livestock shows...[and] no public will be invited.”

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Cashman added that those shows will be limited to in-state participants. The fair was originally scheduled to run from Aug. 27 to Sept. 7.

The state fair, which usually draws hundreds of thousands of attendees and marks the unofficial end of the summer season, has been an ongoing Maryland tradition for more than a century. The fair has not been canceled in its 142-year history except for during World War II, when the U.S. Army used the fairgrounds property, the Maryland State Fair said in a Wednesday news release.

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But social distancing regulations and other safety measures needed to ensure compliance with state-level restrictions on mass gatherings would disrupt this year’s fair.

“We were trying to see what was going to happen with the virus, if the numbers were going to go up [or] down,” Cashman said. “It’s the right thing, it’s the safety of everybody. ... We were trying to wait as long as we could, and we wanted to make the right decision, to be safe. And to do that, we really had to [cancel]. Safety is what it’s all about.”

The fair joins other large, outdoor gatherings such as concerts, carnivals, festivals and sporting events in being halted in Maryland and elsewhere as cases, deaths and hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 prompt officials to tighten restrictions on assembling.

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered other state fairs in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin as officials take different approaches to mitigating the spread of the disease.

Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., said the county health department had been advising state fair officials on safety protocols.

To curb a resurgence of cases in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan tightened mask restrictions last week. He also cautioned residents against traveling to states with testing positivity rates higher than 10%.

Public health experts say the coronavirus spreads easiest between people via droplets from the mouth and nose, which is why they recommend wearing masks in public. But events such as state fairs pose challenges to social distancing, as they usually involve outdoor games, amusement park rides, horse racing, live music and out-of-town travelers.

One such traveler, Tammy Long, comes each year with her husband and four children to run the Tiki Tea stalls. The iced tea vendor, who usually puts up three stalls around the fairgrounds, said her main source of income has all but dried up as fair after fair disappears from the calendar. She has not sold tea at a fair since February.

“It’s all our family’s ever done. We’ve traveled up and down the East Coast all our life,” said Long, a Frederick native now living in Riverview, Florida. “We miss the traveling. We miss seeing all the people. You get to know all these people year after year and they become part of your family.”

Long said she finds it unfair that Disney World can reopen but state fairs have to shutter.

“I bought hand sanitizer and wipes and partitions just in the hopes we’d able to do something,” she said. “Now, we are waiting for the last two fairs to cancel. They’re hanging on by a thread, but it’s not looking good.”

While the livestock shows will go on, the youth and open class exhibitors who showcase their animals will have to follow “proper protocols,” including wearing masks and adhering to social distancing at all times, according to the Maryland State Fair’s news release.

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Melissa Harrison Schulze, of Washington Farm in Woodbine, exhibited livestock at the state fair when she was a child, and now gets to see her children do the same. Now she said she regrets that the public will miss the educational aspects the farm animals displays offer.

“With closing everything else down and not allowing the public in, it’s not allowing us to let them have that experience of seeing the animals,” Schulze said. “Because some people, that’s the only time they see a cow, or a pig or a chicken. And it really helps us to be able to show what we’re doing, how we’re taking care of our animals on the farm, to the general public.”

State Fair president Donna Myers said in the fair’s release that the decision was made in the interest of the more than half a million visitors who typically come to the fair. The organization thanked its vendors, patrons and supporters for allowing them the time to reach this decision and said next summer’s fair was already in the works.

The state had repurposed the fairgrounds in May to serve as an appointment-free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing site, which quickly reached capacity once it opened. The testing site, now located at the fairgrounds’ 158,400-square-foot Cow Palace, will move Aug. 13 to the property’s exhibition hall so the livestock show can take over the Cow Palace until Labor Day, Cashman said.

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