Amy Tignor remembers the crowds that attended the Ozark Empire Fair’s rides, concerts and livestock shows in past years.
A resident of Springfield, Missouri, since 2005 and the owner of a local brewery, Tignor said nothing could “drag her there” this year, even though she’s fully vaccinated.
“As you’re sitting in a crowd, six out of the 10 people around you probably haven’t been vaccinated,” Tignor told CNN. “And that just seems like a risk that I’m not willing to take.”
Springfield, where the Ozark Empire Fair will be held July 29 to Aug. 7, is in Greene County, one of the state’s Covid hotspots.
Mercy Hospital in Springfield recorded 148 positive Covid-19 cases as of Thursday, an all-time high, said Sonya Kullmann, spokesperson for the hospital. Greene County currently has 4,663 active cases as of Friday morning, according to its website.
The uptick in cases is caused by the fast-spreading Delta variant; 95% of those cases were in unvaccinated people, Kullmann said.
Greene County, with a completed vaccination rate of about 35%, has declared a local emergency. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson sent additional life support ambulances and medical staff to the area in preparation of rising cases.
But the fair, which will feature food, a Ferris wheel and an exotic petting zoo — marketed on its website as “summer’s biggest party” — will not be canceled.
“Amusements around the country go on every day with way bigger attendance, in a lot more confined space than what we offer,” Aaron Owen, general manager of the fair, told CNN. “I’ve worried about it all, I know (the Delta variant) is real. But farmers and agriculture folks put their livelihood at stake on this. There’s lots of factors that we have to take into consideration.”
The fair’s planning committee, separate from city and county leadership, plans to have Covid-19 precautions in place, Owen said. These include social distancing and hand washing stations throughout the park.
He said people won’t be required to wear face masks, though the fair website had outdated Covid-19 guidance with mask mandates that are no longer in place. The page was last updated in April.
Owen said he sold 70,000 tickets in 2020 and says he believes that there was no evidence of Covid spread, based on conversations he had with some vendors after the fair. More vendors will be in attendance this year than last.
Loverboy, a Canadian rock band originally scheduled to play at the fair, has canceled its appearance because of Canadian travel restrictions, according to KYTV.
In the meantime, the city of Springfield has canceled its own annual event, the Birthplace of Route 66 festival. Cora Scott, the city’s public information director and an organizer of the festival, said expected attendance would have surpassed 65,000 people, with a parade that would have celebrated the efforts of healthcare workers during the pandemic.
“The Delta variant has basically knocked us on our heels,” Scott said. “I was disappointed that our community was not at a point with vaccinations that we could have this celebration.”
In the coming week, Mercy Hospital’s data team projects positive cases will rise to around 190, Kullmann said. The hospital has converted six units into Covid-19 care units, she said.
“We’re stretched at this point,” Kullmann said.
Dr. Alex Hover, president of the Missouri State Medical Association, said he credits Springfield for canceling the Route 66 festival, and as a resident of Springfield, he won’t be attending the Ozark Empire Fair.
“Hearing from the physicians on (hospital) staff, it’s a great strain and the hospitals are certainly at maximum capacity,” Hover said. “If the fair goes on and people are going to attend, we would strongly urge that they mask and try to adhere to social distancing as much as possible.”
Nick Palmer lives in adjacent Lawrence County and has multiple chronic illnesses that put him at severe risk from Covid-19. Palmer said he’s worried about the fair’s impacts on hospitals and the availability of beds for people who don’t have Covid.
“It reminds me of the movie ‘Jaws,’ when the mayor’s like, ‘The beaches will be open,'” Palmer said. “The priorities are messed up. They’re more worried about keeping the fair going than about what will happen to the people that go there.”
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