NEW PLYMOUTH — Despite the major uptick in positive cases of novel coronavirus COVID-19 causing the cancelations of large and small fairs throughout the region, including the Western Idaho Fair and Malheur County Fair, the show will go on for Payette and Washington counties, with public safety measures in place.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Southwest District Health said that despite the rise in cases, there is not a likelihood of moving backward in Idaho’s reopening phases.
As such, members of fair boards in both counties have recently made the decision to keep moving forward with some modifications expected in both places.
“Everyone has been very excited so far that we’re going to have a fair,” said Marilyn O’Leary, 4-H program coordinator at the University of Idaho’s Payette County Extension office.
Both fair boards share the same overall message: Come if you can, but stay home if you are sick or just uncomfortable attending.
Payette County Fair
“We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
That’s what Cathy Myers, secretary for the Payette County Fair said on Tuesday in an update about whether the fair — which is now less than a month away — will go on. She said the fair board discussed it in a meeting on Monday.
“We are as of right now still going forward,” she said. “But there is no guarantee.”
She said if the Payette County Commission tells them they can’t, they won’t. The matter was discussed by the commission on June 1, at which time the governing body said the fair could go on.
At the commission’s most recent meeting on Monday, discussing or acting on the Payette County Fair wasn’t on the agenda, and it isn’t currently showing on the July 13 agenda.
Commissioner Georgia Hanigan said in a phone interview on Tuesday in previous conversations with co-Commissioners Mark Shigeta and Reese Hrizuk, all members are all on board with the fair going on, so long as public health guidelines regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19 were in place.
Myers said they are following all the guidelines from Southwest District Health. There will be signs posted at the fair, which is Aug. 5-8, to let people know that masks are recommended, she said, as well as hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations throughout. In addition, there will be disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces and objects, such as bleachers and gates, said O’Leary.
There will also be six food booths ran by volunteers for local nonprofits which will have to meet health requirements, too.
An assortment of the usual activities are expected, according to Myers, including animal showings, the market show and the animal sale. However, she was still waiting to hear back on game booths.
As for the rodeo, commissioners wanted to take a wait-and-see stance to see how things transpired at a rodeo held at the fairgrounds on the Fourth of July. If it went off without any problems, Hanigan said, then it would be a good indicator that things could be properly managed for the Payette County Rodeo, held in conjunction with the fair in August.
If things got more dire in the overall COVID-19 situation, such as the state stepping back its stages of reopening, she said the commission “might have to” reconsider.
Otherwise, the fair is expected to begin with animal weigh-ins on Aug. 4
4-H members, leaders have had to ‘adapt on the run’
While the pandemic has reduced the number of fairs throughout the nation in 2020, it has not reduced the number of those enrolled in Payette County 4-H: There are 328 youth enrolled in 20 clubs in the Payette County 4-H program, according to O’Leary.
She says when it comes to 4-H, things have been done very differently this year.
“We’ve had to adapt on the run, and that is challenging,” she said. “So, it’s just exciting that we are going to be able to have a fair.”
Some events have been canceled, O’Leary said, which includes consumer judging of entries and projects.
“But we just couldn’t plan enough to make that safe,” she said.
However, 4-H members will still be able to participate in a table-setting contest on July 30. It will be closed to the public, O’Leary said, but there will be enough space in the 4-H building to space out the tables for participants, club leaders and judges.
Also this year, animal science lessons were delivered virtually.
“We usually hold a day clinic where they come spend most of the day learning about animal science, but we have adapted and done those via Zoom this year,” O’Leary said.
The youth and leaders have easily adapted, she said, adding that even meetings have been held online.
“It’s been amazing how these kids and even our 4-H leaders [have adapted],” O’Leary said. “I have to give big kudos to them because at first when we suggested Zoom it was ‘Oh, no way.’ Now, we have more leaders attending the meeting.”
She indicated having the online option was already so popular, they are considering doing both in the future: holding in-person meetings when possible, and offering it via Zoom at the same time.
Another change for 4-H members attending the fair this year is the cancelations of face-to-face interviews, which is part of the judging process. However, portfolios will still be judged, but this time by 10 community volunteers from July 22-23. As with the table-setting contest, this will be closed to the public.
Ribbons will also not be passed from hand-to-hand this year. Instead, in keeping in line with minimizing the spread of COVID-19, ribbons will be placed on tables and youth will be asked to pick them up on their way out. In addition, superintendents for animals will have access to sanitizing wipes and cleaner .
“We are trying to coordinate with the fair board and FFA advisers so that the fair is safe for FFA members, 4-H members and the public,” O’Leary said.
As for people considering coming to the fair, she had the following message.
“Just come to the fair and enjoy yourself. Please practice social distancing — stay safe and stay well,” O’Leary said. “We welcome you to come see the exhibits, and we’re going to have a great fair.”
Washington County Fair and Rodeo kicks off July 25
On July 2, the Washington County Fair Board officially announced its decision to the community to move forward with keeping its fair. The event is at the Washington County fairgrounds in Cambridge, which is July 27-Aug. 1, with a rodeo included on the final two days.
The fair will wrap up with a livestock sale on the final day.
For the sale, officials will put up speakers for people to be able to listen outside the sale barn, and for those who want to participate in the auction but not go into the barn, the event will be offered on livestream, according to Mary Ridout, our Extension Educator for UI Extension, Washington County.
The only other change for the fair was the decision to cancel in-person interviews for 4-H projects, she said, as the volunteers are typically older women.
“So we wanted to protect them from the kids who will be running back and forth,” Ridout said.
Chris Braun, Washington County Fair Board member, said she is excited that they get to have a fair. When asked whether the youth are too, she responded, “Very much so!”