State fair set to open this week amid virus concerns

Two girls ride the Alpine Bobs on the Midway at last year’s Delaware State Fair.

HARRINGTON — On the fairgrounds bordering the southern edge of Harrington, the 2020 Delaware State Fair will be staged, albeit unlike any of its 100 predecessors.

With lead approval from Delaware’s Division of Public Health, the 101st edition will play out July 23-Aug. 1, with the state four-plus months into the global COVID-19 pandemic that has caused cancellation of other large-scale events.

Approval to stage the fair with health-related requirements followed a review process involving both the Division of Public Health and Division of Small Business.

“Some events require more input from one division or the other,” said Division of Small Business spokesman Michael Chesney. “In this case, given the unique nature of the state fair, DPH took the lead.”

“The fair provided a comprehensive plan that addressed key concerns, including distancing and face coverings, and provided solutions to concerns and questions raised by the Division of Public Health during the review process,” said Division of Public Health spokeswoman Jen Brestel.

During the fair’s 10-day run, cleaning and sanitizing will be paramount, and social distance and other guidelines will be in effect. Facial coverings will be required at certain times and in certain areas, such as Quillen Arena, Exhibit Hall, Dover Building and the Delaware Building.

Due to the pandemic, concerts at the M&T Grandstand have been canceled.

Harrington City Manager Daniel Tartt said city hall is receiving inquiries with concerns about the state fair.

“We have been getting calls at city hall, thinking that we have authority and control over the fair, but we don’t. We are getting calls complaining because the fair is going to be open,” Mr. Tartt said. “Most callers believe that Harrington has some control or authority over Delaware State Fair operations. We have no power, no authority over the fair whatsoever. They are a completely separate entity,”

Mr. Tartt, noting that Harrington has cancelled its annual Heritage Day Festival which was scheduled for Aug. 29, said some calls to the city are questioning why Heritage Day has been cancelled yet the fair is still going on. “They think that we control the fair,” he said.

Karley Busker from Harrington with her cow during the Cow Parade and Judging at the state fair’s Quillen Arena last year.

The city is, however, planning for the aftermath of the state fair.

“Harrington has already requested, and is working with the governor’s office, on scheduling a testing session one week after the end of the fair. Concerned citizens, employees, business owners and their employees and visitors will be able to get tested,” said Mr. Tartt. “We have concerned citizens. We have concerned city employees. We have business owners who are concerned.

“You got the rides and all the vendors that are coming, we don’t know where they are coming from. All the other events are cancelled so I think a lot of people are going to be trying to come to this event … and around town, shopping maybe, eating, etc., so there is concern in town.”

A social media survey on the decision to hold this year’s fair drew mixed opinions.

“My thoughts are if you don’t feel safe stay home from larger events. If one can hold an event, they all should be able,” stated Karen Schreiber in a Facebook post. “I also know a ton of planning goes into the fair each year.”

“I’ve never missed it. But won’t be going this year,” Dawn Smith Rexrode posted. “Just not sure how it will work. And just don’t feel safe going.”

“Our kids and grandchildren have shown livestock at the fair for about 30 years,” stated Lou Ann Rieley. “We camp up there all week and it is the highlight of the year for our family. This year we are going also. We are not afraid because of the virus but are very concerned because of the restrictions. If people are afraid then they can do whatever they think necessary to take care of their health. Outdoor transmission has proven to be extremely rare, so I am not sure why the mask mandates for outside activities.”

Suzanne Farris in a post stated, “I think it’s completely irresponsible. My kids and I look forward to the fair every year and they’ve been working on their exhibits since this time last year, but we won’t be anywhere close to that event and anyone who attends should have to quarantine afterwards. Think of the carnival workers traveling across the country and the number of visitors from all over. If the fair is safe, then all the other things canceled are safe. I want to know why the health department shut down the peach festival but is allowing the fair.”

Fat Daddy’s was a go, other events are off

Recently, the Division of Small Business rendered approval for a concert and fireworks show that was staged July 4 on the grounds of Fat Daddy’s BBQ along Seashore Highway west of Georgetown. That event, brokered in large part by State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, was limited to a maximum 800 attendance count.

This past week, the annual Wyoming Peach Festival was cancelled after the Division of Public Health and Division of Small Business in a joint review of the event committee’s proposal determined the Aug. 1 event would be too large to keep all attendees safe.

Earlier this month, organizers of Apple Scrapple, Bridgeville’s mega-open street festival, announced the town’s early October tradition would not be held this year. Karen Johnson, Apple Scrapple Festival executive director, made note of the difference between Apple Scrapple and the state fair in addressing social media inquiries as to why the state fair is a go and Apple Scrapple is not.

“One of the factors with the Delaware State Fair, they do have gates. With the Delaware State Fair, they have a larger footprint, and unfortunately for our festival we do not have those,” Ms. Johnson said.

In general, lack of a specific entrance and exit is a concern for open street festivals, Mr. Chesney said.

“I think the events that are most likely to put folks in situations of greater likelihood of transmission have been canceled,” Bob Wheatley posted in a comment, adding “transmission outdoors appears to be quite rare. Staying away is not a matter of fear. It’s a matter of assessing one’s own vulnerability and appetite for calculated risk — and how much one enjoys the events that aren’t canceled! I’ll be staying home …”

The state fair is gated with a controlled entrance.

“The largest factor is the level of control that the organizers have over the event and the environment,” Ms. Brestel said. “The fairgrounds allow for controlled access to the facility via admission ticket sales, monitoring over all areas because they are all owned by the fair and coordination among all vendors and attendees.”

Ms. Brestel said the DPH noted that “the fair also has the ability to limit access if distancing or other concerns arise and to remove non-compliant people from the fairgrounds. Other types of events held in publicly accessible areas are more difficult to ensure the level of control and enforcement needed for a safe event.”

State fair employees will be monitoring building entrances to remind guests of the face mask requirement and to count people entering and exiting due to the decreased occupancy, presently at 60 percent during Phase 2 of Gov. John Carney’s executive order.

“The approved plan addressed all areas of concern raised by the Division of Public Health,” said Ms. Brestel. “The fair’s willingness to consider reductions in capacity, changes to operations and their communication and cooperation with the Division of Public Health contributed to the approval of the plan.”

Mr. Tartt said he spoke with Delaware State Fair Friday and “they questioned me on what we were requiring in the city of Harrington, and I said we’re following the Governor’s guidelines.”

In addition to the events, competitions and activities on tap for this year’s fair, the Delaware State Fair website – – has an entire section on COVID-19.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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