By ROBERT A.
Times Leader Staff Writer
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The fate of this year’s Belmont County Fair has been in doubt through the COVID-19 pandemic, but while many beloved events have been canceled, the fair board is deciding to move forward.
The decision came as a result of two lengthy meetings Thursday night. Fair board president Ed Campbell said there was considerable debate about the importance of the fair and potential dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the board made a unanimous decision to proceed.
“I do believe there are still some mixed feelings about whether the right decision was made or not,” he said. “This is something we really want to do.”
As restrictions on gatherings are lifted in Ohio, the fair board considered several options, including having only a junior fair, before deciding.
“As of (Thursday) night we voted, and we decided to go through with our full fair,” he said. “We will be having everything that the fair provides. There will be some modifications as far as some of the entertainers, and we will be having to adjust the shows accordingly to meet all of our health guidelines that have been suggested for us.
“We will have all grandstand entertainment as far as truck and tractor pulls. All of our other entertainment that was booked, other than a couple of music acts that we felt would be better not having, being in an enclosed building,” he said. “As of (Thursday) night, our meetings will reconvene every two weeks from now until the fair.”
Campbell said Thursday’s meetings included input from the health department, county officials and the sheriff’s department.
“We all got together with the executive board from the fair board. We discussed some of the stuff we had to put in place to go ahead with this,” he said.
The fair will be held the week after Labor Day, Sept. 8-13.
He said the fair will include signage recommending face masks. Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the fairgrounds and all food-service vendors will be required to wear protective gear. We will be directing the flow of traffic through our buildings. One way in, one way out, best to keep the flow of people going so everybody’s not congesting in one area,” he said.
“As far as our shows, we will be spreading out the audience. … We will try to maintain our distance.”
He said fair workers will regularly sanitize areas. The ride companies will also provide sanitary plans for their rides.
Campbell said the fair board would be in constant contact with the health department. He said the health department and county officials have been very supportive.
He said junior fair participants will follow the state’s health guidelines in showing their animals.
The state has also made some funding allocations available for county fairs. Campbell said they hope this will be a help.
“If that becomes available, we will pursue that any way we can,” he said.
“We have been doing a lot of work. The fair board has never backed down from making the improvements. I do believe people will be very surprised when we get things going,” he said.
In prior years, work crews from the Belmont Correctional Institute have been invaluable in preparing for the fair. But the prison recently was designated a “hot spot” of coronavirus infections by the state, and National Guard personnel have been called to assist the staff. Campbell said the fair board has not been in contact with the prison to determine if inmates could be made available.
“That is to be discussed at a later meeting,” Campbell said.
“The fair is putting together a plan following the state’s responsible protocols to prevent the spread of the virus,” Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul stated in a text. “We will be working with them and provide any support they need to help make it a safe and successful fair.”
Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the fair would have support from the county.
“I have been attending fair board meetings during the pandemic and I realize the amount of time and effort that was put into this decision. It wasn’t one made quickly obviously, but we’re happy to hear it’s going to move forward, it’s one of the great events in Belmont County,” he said.
“There’s discussion with funding potentially federal funds that are flowing through the State of Ohio that may become available at the local level,” he said, adding funding may assist with additional expenses incurred by the pandemic. “There may be some funds to reimburse those costs.”
Dutton said he was impressed by the fair board’s focus on safety measures during the much-beloved event.
“I have no doubt they gathered all the information needed to make a decision like this,” he said. “I just am so happy particularly for all the kids and youth in Belmont County…the Belmont County Fair is a place for them to shine every year. … There’s going to be a lot of work between now and the fair.”
He asked all Belmont County residents to support the fair and those who feel comfortable doing so to attend.
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