Josh Bergeron: For Rowan County Fair, the show can’t go on

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 6, 2020

When the governor last week announced that gathering restrictions would be loosened as part of a series of changes, I began to wonder about events that might suddenly be possible again.

With 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors, some previously canceled events can move forward with precautions. And others that had been doubtful to continue might have hope.

In particular, I started brainstorming this column with the idea that the Rowan County Fair could move forward in some significantly diminished form. The fair association announced in late July that the fair’s exhibits, including livestock shows, commercial exhibits and individual entries, would be canceled.

“We know that many of you have spent the past year preparing your items for entries in the fair, and we hope that 2021 will be bigger and better than ever,” the fair association said in a July post online.

The fair said then that it might be able to have rides later than usual, but that’s even doubtful now, said Randall Barger, who handles event rentals for the fairgrounds and serves on the fair’s executive board. Barger said the ride company the fair had planned to use canceled its insurance. And insurance is a necessary part of having fair-type rides.

But couldn’t exhibits and animal shows, including ones like goat dress up, move forward with proper precautions in place? The response from fair organizers was basically, “No.”

“The fair is all about family, and the whole county is our family,” said David Correll, who coordinates agricultural items and the barn at the fair. “With the restrictions we have, our hands are tied at this point to host the fair like the county expects and like the county would love to have.”

Putting together even part of the fair in time for the scheduled dates of Sept. 25 through Oct. 3 isn’t as simple as opening a building or a barn and letting people bring their items or animals in. There are prizes associated with many of the events, ribbons to buy and other premiums.

Correll said to encourage people who might usually submit crafts and other items to keep working for what will hopefully be a 2021 fair. The Rowan County Fair is like county fairs all across the state in not moving forward this year. The N.C. State Fair is canceled, too.

That Gov. Roy Cooper lifted restrictions on gatherings last week may not allow some diminished form of the Rowan County Fair, but it may allow organizers and likely attendees of events not yet canceled to maintain hope for this year. The Polar Express, an annual event at the N.C. Transportation Museum, may be one of those. Though, it would surely require a much-reduced capacity limit.

Health and safety must always come first, but events that have long been institutions cannot continue to be canceled if Salisbury and Rowan County hope to maintain its sense of community. Otherwise, the community will move one step closer to just being a collection of people who live in the same place.

Reality, though is that the two are inextricably linked. For events to continue, health and safety must come first, and for too many people it’s not even in the top tier of concerns.

Whether it’s mask wearing, social distancing or following other health guidelines, everyone has a part to play in getting back to in-person events, even if they come with much-reduced capacity restrictions. Following health guidelines also means staying away from informal large gatherings, even when it’s tempting to do otherwise.

It’s easy to hope that events will return eventually, and it’s also simple to abide by the basic recommendations health officials have made. Doing the latter ensures the former.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.