ALBERT LEA, Minnesota - It's a summer staple in most rural communities: the county fair.
During the first part of August, the midway at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds is packed with a sea of people checking out rides, musicians, vendors, and food during the week-long celebration, with an average attendance of about 15,000-18,000 people per day.
However, it has become the latest event to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a meeting Tuesday morning, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners voted on suspending all activities at the fairgrounds until September 1, with the fair, which was scheduled to run from August 4-9, also being canceled with it.
County Administrator Tom Jensen says the decision was not made lightly, knowing full well the impact the fair has, including the economic side, on the community and county.
"With those 6 days, and 15,000 people a head, you're looking at 120,000-130,000 folks. Probably half of them are coming from outside of the community, and they're spending money at our hotels and our restaurants."
However, the health and safety for fairgoers and staff was the utmost priority in the decision.
"It doesn't make sense to have that many people from all corners of the earth gathering together when there's very little sanitation, there's no hand washing, there's nothing. And social distancing is impossible."
There are plans being discussed with the University of Minnesota Extension for 4-H students to showcase projects and animals.
Those who have bought tickets and season passes will receive a refund. In addition, the fair board is looking to reschedule entertainers that were planned for this year's fair to come back in 2021.
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One county fair is planned to go on as scheduled: the Mower County Fair will be held from August 11-16 in Austin. According to a post on the fair's Facebook page from Tuesday afternoon, the fair board will continue to monitor the situation and will be updated if anything changes.