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Rockingham County Fair Trims Schedule, Highlights Ag Roots
By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record 7/24/20
Though there will be no carnival at this year’s Rockingham County Fair, that doesn’t mean the fair’s board had an easy ride in coming to a decision on the event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s definitely been like a roller coaster,” said Rebecca Holloway, fair general manager. “We’re just happy that we can provide something the safest way we can do it.”
The Rockingham County Fair Association announced the cancellation of many of its events due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, according to a Thursday morning Facebook post. The Rockingham County Fair is the largest county fair in the state and is slated to run from Aug. 17 to Aug. 22, according to the fair’s website.
“The key to drive home here, in my opinion, is the public and our community needs to realize that it’s not a normal fair,” Holloway said.
However, many of the agricultural events will continue such as the livestock, beef, dairy, goat, sheep, poultry, rabbit and pigeon shows.
“The heart of our fair is our livestock shows and competitions, so this year we will be focusing on bringing our fair back to our original roots,” read a post from the fair on its Facebook page.
Attendance to the grounds and the livestock areas will be limited.
The antique and farm tractor pulls will also be held, but with a 1,000 person limit with social distancing and some fair food booths will be open.
No rides, bingo, grounds entertainment or concerts will be at the fair. Holloway said the fair board is looking to hold the demolition derby later in the year depending on when COVID- 19 restrictions may be lifted.
The food booths at the county fair can be the largest fundraisers through the year for area nonprofit groups such as the 4-H, Ruritans and FFA, according to Holloway. She said the fair will “ highlight” the food booths that will be opening for the week and what they will be serving.
Homemaking, arts, photography, horticulture, flower and farm crop displays and competitions will also be held, according to the Facebook post.
The events scheduled are subject to change based on local guidelines and board decisions, according to the Facebook post.
Face coverings will be required at the fair, in line for food and events, and when social distancing isn’t possible.
However, Holloway said there is difficulty in enforcing such a measure.
“I haven’t seen a store [enforce mask wearing] well yet,” she said.
The plans for the fair were looked over by the Central Shenandoah Health District’s environmental health manager, according to director Dr. Laura Kornegay, and suggestions were sent back to fair organizers.
“I think, for folks who are going ahead with congregate events, it’s really incumbent on planners to ensure that public health recommendations are met,” Kornegay said.
Fair organizers have taken the suggestions into account as they continue to iron out and adjust the event, Holloway said.
Kornegay said that included ensuring attendants who should be masked are. And, if not, it would fall under the same category as how businesses are able to refuse service to customers who refuse to wear a mask without a valid excuse.
Reasons for not wearing a mask include a serious, underlying respiratory issue, such as COPD, asthma, or an underlying lung disease, and comfort is not a reason to refuse a mask, according to Kornegay. She said people should also be aware of wearing masks in high temperatures and stay hydrated and cool.
Ful l compl iance with hand- washing, mask- wearing, staying home when sick and distancing will help reduce the spread of the virus, according to Kornegay and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“For both businesses and events, the Department of Health doesn’t have a workforce that can enforce the masking ordinance throughout the state, so we really do depend on our community partners to help with that,” Kornegay said.
Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said deputies will be at the event to help volunteers make sure the fair runs as smoothly as possible.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help and certainly encourage people to both distance and whatever guidelines the fair established for that venue for that week,” he said. “We’ll certainly encourage people to help out, but it’s not going to be enforcement.”
Last year, the fair drew roughly 80,000 people, according to Holloway. The first fair held by the organization was between Aug. 31 and Sept 3, 1949, and 5,000 people attended, according to the fair’s website.
Holloway said the total week’s attendance for the fair this year probably will not even reach one night of a normal year.
She said an advantage for the county fair is the size of the fairgrounds and that most of the events will be held outside, allowing for more spread out activities. The fairgrounds sit on a nearly 111 acre parcel south of Harrisonburg on the west side of U. S. 11, according to the Rockingham County geographic information system.
More information about the fair will be released over the coming weeks as there are more county fair committee meetings, according to Holloway.
“We wanted to get out that we are doing something” this year Holloway said. “It will definitely be different. It will not be the same fair, but it will be something.”
The Rockingham County Fair Association’s approach amid the coronavirus is similar to the path taken by nearby county fairs.
On July 7, the organizers of the Page Valley Agricultural and Industrial Fair announced they were cancelling all events except the 4-H Livestock Sale and Shows of Page County, according to a statement on the fair’s webpage.
Two days later, the Shenandoah County Fair Association announced its event would also be cancelled due to COVID-19 and the restrictions surrounding a 1,000 person crowd limit and safety of guests, according to a statement from the association. The Shenandoah County Fair Association also said they would host a “condensed version” of their 4-H and FFA events due to the fair’s ability to meet all the legal requirements for COVID- 19 prevention.
On July 14, the Augusta County Fair Board voted to suspend the fair until next year, but the 4-H and FFA livestock show is scheduled for next weekend and the 26th- annual Miss Augusta County Fair Pageant will also be held Saturday at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton.
The 2020 State Fair of Virginia announced it was cancelled with a modified 4-H livestock show slated for early October, according to a Thursday press release.
All the other organizations had the same rationale for the changes to their events as the Rockingham County Fair Association — safety, cost and legality during the COVID-19 pandemic.