SALT LAKE CITY — If the State Fair happens in 2020, it will look a fair bit different than the events of years past.
The fair board of directors is confident its “September to Remember” planned for Sept. 10-20 can meet the necessary COVID-19 safety guidelines and will help offset some of the financial losses the Utah State Fairpark has incurred because of the virus.
“2020 was scheduled to be a phenomenal year for the fairpark; it was scheduled to be a record-breaking year, not only in the number of events we were going to host — multiday large events — but also in revenue,” Larry Mullenax, executive director of the Utah State Fair Corp., told the State Fair Park Committee on Aug. 14.
Those forecasted boons never materialized, and the fairpark had dozens of events canceled this year due to COVID-19.
He is hoping the Utah State Fair doesn’t add to that number.
He said the event isn’t just about making money but helping the community as well. One of the fair’s primary focuses this year would be supporting people who rely on it to make money, including members of 4H and artists.
“We know that our youth livestock programs have really suffered throughout the state,” Mullenax said. “A lot of the early shows were canceled, and a lot of our youth, they use this revenue to pay for their college funds.”
A modified fair planned
To address concerns of safety, the board of directors put together a plan for a modified fair with multiple contingency options should the pandemic improve or worsen in the coming weeks.
“It was designed to scale back. Any other year we would design it to scale up; it was designed to scale back,” Mullenax said in his presentation to the committee, claiming they could revert to the contingencies within 10 days of the fair’s opening.
The board has been working with multiple government entities to ensure it follows all safety guidelines, including the Legislature, the governor’s office, Salt Lake County officials and other local health departments, according to State Fair Park Committee Chairman Rep. Calvin R. Musselman, R-West Haven.
“They’re working with everybody,” he said.
The first modification is a 6,000 visitor cap, though Mullenax is hopeful that number could be increased to 12,000 or 15,000 should coronavirus cases decline.
Ticketing would be completely digital, which would aid contact tracing should an infection be linked to the park, and an app would allow visitors to purchase food through their phones to reduce lines, according to the board’s plans.
Mullenax also hopes to cut down on the amount of physical money changing hands, and he plans to encourage vendors to ask for credit cards.
Additionally, the number of food vendors would be cut in half — to around 30 — to allow for more space between their booths, according to Mullenax.
Among the activities removed from the fair’s usual offerings would be the “open” livestock exhibitions — though the livestock fitting, showmanship and the junior livestock auction would remain — as well as all “large arena concerts.”
The ice cream social, beef feast and live cooking demonstrations would also be canceled.
There would be limited attendance at events such as the rodeo, monster trucks show and demolition derby to ensure social distancing.
Other proposed modifications include:
- A map guiding people through one-way traffic areas, designed to help people social distance around the park.
- Daily health questionnaires and temperature checks for employees and performers.
- Hourly hand-washing for employees.
- Required face coverings.
- Required gloves for food workers.
- Required self-quarantine for 14 days or a negative COVID-19 test for employees and vendors who have symptoms.
- Indoor dining limited to 50% capacity or however much space is required for social distancing.
- Restroom surfaces wiped down after each use.
The plan is considered a “living document” and could be subject to change before the fair starts on Sept. 10.
Is it enough?
Mullenax noted that hosting fairs, even during a pandemic, is not without precedent in Utah.
“Washington County and St. George held their full fair last weekend with no restrictions,” he said on Aug. 14. “Weber County hosted a modified fair. Summit County has hosted a modified fair. And Box Elder County is also going to hold a modified fair.”
He also believes the Utah State Fairpark is better-equipped to allow people to follow COVID-19 guidelines than other outdoor venues.
“The main fairpark body is 68 acres, and it is really important to note that this facility is purpose-built to host events. Social distance was built into the very core design of the facility,” he said.
The contingency plans outlined in the presentation include cutting out arena events and reverting the fair to a livestock show and auction.
Even these modified versions of the event may not receive the requisite approvals to run in the middle of a pandemic. However, in an encouraging show of support, the legislative committee passed a motion to support the modified fair.
They also supported giving the board discretion to scale the event up or down based on changing conditions.
“It’s going to be a larger event, so the thought processes that go into it need to be detailed. They need to be really well thought out, they need to have done their homework, they need to use data from past years and the events that have already taken place this year and learn from those, and that’s exactly what they’ve done,” Musselman said.
Nicholas Rupp, communications manager with the county health department, said he expects the event to follow the guidelines issued by the state but that the county isn’t in charge of approving such events.