COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday he won't rule on whether state fairs will continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead will leave that decision to the local level.
Canfield Fair coordinators said there's "good news" in that decision, though it presents a whole new set of challenges for the fair's 174th season.
Though the Ohio State Fair and Trumbull County Fair were both canceled last week, DeWine said other county and independent fair boards across the state may work with local health authorities to decide if and how this year's fairs can continue safely.
DeWine, during a Thursday briefing on the state's coronavirus response, said a state task force has reviewed the possibility of continuing junior fair showings and 4-H projects and has produced guidelines for safely holding those events — which can be found below — while urging coordination between fair boards and local health departments.
"We've asked them to come together to provide a safe outlet for kids to participate in limited livestock shows, showmanship, skill-a-thons, barn or building activities, the auction, as well as the non-livestock exhibits and exhibitions," the governor said, adding decisions for each fair "need to be made locally," as each county fair's financial situations and structures are different.
While this year's Trumbull County Fair has been canceled, organizers of the Canfield Fair said they intend to have the fair as scheduled, Sept. 2 through 7.
“We were hoping he’d say what he said,” fair board member George Roman said about DeWine’s announcement, but added, “It may not exactly be the fair that everyone is used to.”
For example, distancing requirements might make grandstand entertainment impossible. The board could use the gates — perhaps by closing some — to control the crowd, he said. Children who participate in agricultural activities would likely be unable to bring their animals and could instead hold a photo or stand by a screen showing the animal.
Board member Craig Myers was less sure the board would still decide to host the fair.
“The good news is, we don’t have to make a firm decision today,” he said. “I think between now and July 1, we ought to understand the disease even better than we do currently. I know we certainly understand more than we did 30 days ago."
If the fair is on, it’s going to be a challenge to predict how many of the average 60,000 daily fairgoers will show up, he said.
Some regular fairgoers will say, “I’m just going to miss a year,” Myers predicted.
Nearly 70 percent of about 4,900 people polled by Canfield Fair operators said they "never miss a year." Similarly, nearly 74 percent of about 4,800 people polled said they'll also go this year as well.
Of the about 1,500 people who said they will likely skip the 2020 fair, about 80 percent said it was because of COVID-19 concerns.
But the fair board has been preparing as if the fair will happen. The board has ordered hand sanitizer to ensure it will be available at the fair. Of the safety measures poll respondents said they'd like to see this year, hand sanitizer was the highest priority, followed by mask requirements for all fair workers and vendors.
“Any time you mix as many people as we have and animals and livestock and agricultural products, sanitation has always been of utmost importance,” Myers said.
DeWine added the Ohio Department of Agriculture is expediting the release of all available state funding for 94 county and independent fairs statewide to help.
Here are the guidelines for safely conducting county and independent fairs across the state, released Thursday by state officials. To view a full-sized version, click the icon in the upper-right:
Here are other recent developments around the state and nation:
• According to the latest figures Thursday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 31,625 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There have been 1,397 confirmed cases in Mahoning County; 551 in Trumbull County; and 684 in Columbiana County.
• Statewide, there have been 1,888 confirmed deaths, including 173 in Mahoning County; 47 in Trumbull; and 51 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 173 reported COVID-19 deaths on Thursday was fourth among Ohio's 88 counties; Franklin County had the most with 253.
• The City of Youngstown on Thursday reported 302 total cases, including 59 hospitalizations and 26 deaths.
• The federal Bureau of Prisons on Thursday reported 293 active cases of COVID-19 at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, including 286 among inmates and seven casses among employees. Nine Elkton inmates have died. The prison's number of cases and deaths are each the second-highest in the entire federal prison system. So far, 80 inmates and 46 employees have recovered from the virus, the bureau also reported.
• In nearby counties: Stark, 705 cases and 91 deaths; Portage, 318 cases and 57 deaths; and Ashtabula, 324 cases and 34 deaths.
• Youngstown State University on Thursday announced a restructuring plan to help balance the university's budget. The plan reduces the number of academic colleges from six to five by combining the Beeghly College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The university on Wednesday announced $2 million in operational budget cuts and the elimination of 22 positions, both in response to financial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
• Youngstown State University also announced Thursday it is developing plans with the intention to fully open campus as scheduled on Aug. 17, acknowledging that those plans are dependent on the pandemic.
• CVS Health on Thursday announced new coronavirus testing sites at its Boardman and Niles locations would come online Friday. Here's our list of all locations in the Mahoning Valley where you can get tested. Ohio's coronavirus dashboard now includes a map of testing locations across the state and community health centers across the state.
• On Tuesday morning, Boardman Local Schools buses showed their support for graduating seniors. The buses and the district marching band spelled out “SENIORS ♥ 20.” Boardman school buses also will be driving through neighborhoods this week.
• Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday announced outdoor visitation may resume June 8 at assisted living facilities, as well as intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled. Visitors will remain barred from Ohio nursing homes, he added. He said state visitation guidelines would be "flexible" to allow each facility to set their own plans and requirements for visitors, but at a minimum would require social distancing, face coverings temperature screening and time limitations on visits.
• DeWine also announced the state is expanding coronavirus testing priorities to include all individuals who are showing symptoms of the virus but who don't meet criteria to be included in the higher priority groups described on this chart.
• The Republican-controlled Ohio State Senate on Wednesday passed legislation barring state officials from changing the date of an election or closing places of worship. Lawmakers tacked the provisions onto House Bill 272.
• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday, there are 70,042 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 5,373 deaths. The state reported today that 64 percent of people who have been diagnosed with the virus have recovered. There are 74 cases in Lawrence County with 8 deaths; 106 cases in Mercer County with 4 deaths.
• Nationally, another 2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total for the past 10 weeks to more than 40 million claims.
• Ohio added another 42,363 to its unemployment ranks in the week ending May 23. The number of claims reported last week is 617,480, down 87,304 from the prior week’s reported 704,784 unemployment claims.
• In Pennsylvania, another 69,000 residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the state’s total during the 10 weeks of the coronavirus outbreak to more than 1.9 million.