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Utah State Fair opens for another year — with precautions

Emmy Doney, right, puts her straw under her mask as she gets slushies with her mother, Cassie, and brother Ryder, 4, left, and sister Brielle, 5, at the Utah State Fair at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Emmy Doney, right, puts her straw under her mask as she gets slushies with her mother, Cassie, and brother Ryder, 4, left, and sister Brielle, 5, at the Utah State Fair at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens gathered at the Utah State Fairpark Friday to enjoy the second day of the 2020 Utah State Fair. Unlike years past, however, many were wearing masks while standing in line — the first visible sign that this year is a bit different than most.

Masks are now a ubiquitous part of life with COVID-19, and the fair — named “A September to Remember” — requires patrons to wear them while inside the park. But what else was different about an event held during a global pandemic — one that draws tens of thousands of people together each year?

Most of the modifications are simply following government guidelines and common sense, according to Annie Hemmesch, the director of marketing for the Utah State Fairpark board of directors.

“It is the same that you’ve been hearing about other places,” she said. “Six-foot social distancing, masks are required, we’re at specific capacity.”

Berta Murillo’s hair goes flying as she takes a ride with her sister, Kendra, 5, at the Utah State Fair at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Berta Murillo’s hair goes flying as she takes a ride with her sister, Kendra, 5, at the Utah State Fair at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

In addition to these measures, the fair also enforces new sanitation policies and implemented an app that allows for contactless transactions. Fairpark employees, including vendors, are required to follow a safety protocol checklist, and the sanitizers the park uses are “hospital grade.”

All modifications were developed over months of planning, with the board having to present various designs to government entities for approval in order to hold this year’s state fair.

“We have developed (a plan) basically keeping in mind with the Utah Department of Health, the Salt Lake City mayor, the governor and the state of Utah overall in accordance with what’s been drafted by the government,” Hemmesch said.

Perhaps because of the precautions, the fair is able to maintain most of its annual events, including the majority of carnival rides and arena events, 4-H activities, petting farms and pony rides, according to Hemmesch.

The execution of these events looks slightly different in some cases, however. For instance, going on rides may take longer than usual as workers are required to sanitize touchable surfaces after each run-through. Seating for arena events is also not being offered at full capacity, with “pod” seating available to ensure social distancing.

A sign indicates that people must eat only in designated areas, part of the Utah State Fair’s COVID-19 precautions, at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
A sign indicates that people must eat only in designated areas, part of the Utah State Fair’s COVID-19 precautions, at the fairpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Most of the actual event shutdowns had more to do with extrinsic circumstances rather than the park itself. Hemmesch referenced bands that were originally contracted to play at the fair but had to postpone until 2021 because their tours were cancelled for this year.

“I don’t know that many things are as shut down as it just looks and feels different because of COVID implementations,” she said.

Madi Goodrich, who has attended fairs in years past and was back on Friday, agreed.

“There’s a lot less people,” she said. “Not a whole lot else has changed.”

Some of the aesthetic differences included cutting down on lines inside the park as well as spacing food vendors’ stalls dozens of feet apart to avoid crowding. While there may have been fewer stalls, plenty of fair favorites are still available: ice cream, deep-fried hamburgers, smoked meats and elephant ears.

Additionally, all food was supposed to be eaten in park-designated areas, where benches and tables are set up to be distanced.

While certain buildings were closed, others remained open but had arrows taped to the floor directing flows of traffic.

Of course, as many have witnessed in their local grocery stores, not every patron followed these mandates, and some people — including park workers — walked around while eating their food or without their masks fully on.

Patrons also had varying opinions Friday about how well the fair was doing keeping everyone safe and following guidelines.

“Some places have the hand sanitizer available,” said fairgoer Spencer Hopson. “Other than that, I don’t think they’re enforcing the mask policy well enough. I know when you’re sitting to eat, you know, at that time since you’re a distance away it’d be OK to take the masks off. But I’ve seen people go up to booths with the masks down or it’s not covering their nose properly. And that’s an issue.”

Jacob Veane, who was attending the fair for the first time Friday, did not agree.

“I haven’t seen many people at all not following the mask guidelines,” he said.

Hemmesch said the park has increased the amount of security and staff this year to try and keep everyone safe, but they can’t be perfect.

“If we see something, we say something,” she said. “And that’s the best we can do.”

Multiple people also mentioned seeing fewer people than they expected at the fair, which helped with social distancing.

The Utah State Fair is scheduled to run through Sept. 20.