Close together

Whitley County Fair visitors enjoy eating meals “at the top of the hill” in the 4-H Center during the fair. Events with many people in close spaces may be changed for this year’s fair due to the coronavirus.

COLUMBIA CITY — The show will go on, but it will not be the traditional fair that many are used to.

That was the message from Whitley County 4-H Inc. after the organization took into account the state’s and Purdue Extension’s guidelines in making a decision on this year’s 4-H Whitley County 4-H Fair.

“As of now, the plan is to move forward with an in-person fair, meaning all animals will come in and show,” Geiger said.

The plan is contingent on Whitley County moving to Stage 5 of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Back on Track plan, which is expected to be implemented July 4.

Stage 5 states that social gatherings of more than 250 people may take place following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines.

The Stage 5 guidelines do state that conventions, sporting events, fairs, festivals and the state fair may resume, with social distancing.

“The coronavirus is often spread among groups of people who are in close contact in a confined space for an extended period of time,” the guidelines state.

That being said, maintaining social distancing at a fair that attracts hundreds of people per day may be difficult.

“There are still many things to work out, including scheduling and logistics,” Geiger said. “One thing is sure, this year’s Whitley County 4-H Fair will look different than any other fair that we’ve seen.”

Perhaps the biggest of those changes is the “show and go” plan for animal shows. Animals will not take residency at the fair for the week. They will come in, show, and go home in the same day. No animals will stay overnight.

“This will allow for greater social distancing and allow for the facilities and common areas to have a deep cleaning each evening,” Geiger said.

Exhibitors will also have the option to showcase their projects virtually, for those who choose.

“Exhibiting at the fair is not a requirement to complete the 4-H project,” Geiger said.

All volunteers will be required to sign in each day and a health check will be performed. Details of what that will entail will come at a later date.

The use, or requirement of, face masks is unclear.

“We are working to further clarify the requirements/recommendations on this with the team at Purdue and the Whitley County Health Department,” Geiger said. “Please give us time to work through this one, and we will release additional information as soon as we have it.”

Many aspects of the fair remain “up in the air,” such as entertainment events, concessions, commercial building exhibits, tractor exhibits and other activities.

“We are hoping to have as many of these as we can, but exact details are still to be determined,” Geiger said.

Food and livestock auctions are still planned, but there are still details to be worked out.

Some community members have questioned why the local fair is required to follow Purdue’s guidelines. Whitley County is a 4-H-owned fairgrounds, is under Purdue’s 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, and Purdue is the managing organization for all 4-H activities across the state.

“We have to follow their guidelines and expectations,” Geiger said. “There are also guidelines from the CDC and health department that we must adhere to as well.”

As with many other events in the past two months, the public can expect changes.

“The Whitley County 4-H Inc. Board of Directors is working very closely with the Whitely County Health Department, Purdue Extension Staff, 4-H Council, 4-H leaders, and 4-H livestock advisory boards to develop a plan that must be submitted, and approved, by Purdue University and the state board of health,” Geiger said. “Please understand that any plans we develop are subject to change at any time as we receive updated guidance and guidelines.”

An updated schedule of events and other plans will be released as available.

After much deliberation, the Steuben County 4-H Fair Board decided to hold the fair virtually. If it had been held in person, it would have been limited to 4-H’ers and their immediate supporters, with few festivities outside the show ring.

The Noble County Community Fair Corp. announced recently that this year’s Noble County Fair, scheduled for July 12-18, has been canceled. Amy Fischer, treasurer of the Noble County Fair Board, said the decision was a tough one.

“We had quite a lengthy discussion about what it would take to put the event on,” she said. “We couldn’t get past the logistics and the financial end of what it would take to comply with regulations.”

The Allen County Fair is scheduled for July 28-Aug. 2 at the Allen County Fairgrounds, 2726 Carroll Road, Fort Wayne. No changes had been announced as of press time.

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