County fairs expected to resume this summer

The carousel at the 2017 Columbia County Fair. File photo

For a beloved New York summer tradition, it all comes down to state guidelines.

Planners of county fairs across the state are proposing socially distant and other creative safety protocols for local fairs to return this summer as the coronavirus pandemic winds down.

At a COVID-19 briefing in Buffalo on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said state Health Department guidelines for county fairs will be released within the week. How the local fairs will look — and what they’ll offer — will largely depend on rules municipal leaders are waiting for state executives in Albany to release the details.

“It’s not dragging your feet,” Cuomo said of the state’s delay in releasing additional guidelines for fairs.

At the end of April, the governor announced the New York State Fair in Syracuse will resume this summer at 50% capacity.

“It’s that the situation changes so quickly we want to open at the greatest capacity and at a capacity that makes it economic,” he said. “If you can’t bring in enough people, then the vendors don’t want to show up.”

Cuomo and the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force members continue to study and amend the State Fair guidelines for smaller, county fairs next season.

After its cancellation last year, Columbia County Fair planners are waiting on state guidance to officially announce it will return.

Preparations are underway in anticipation of COVID safety protocols. The 2021 fair is scheduled for Sept. 1 - 6.

“The Board of Directors of the Columbia County Agricultural Society is hopeful that it will be able to hold the 2021 Columbia County Fair,” according to a statement posted to columbiafair.com. “The board, in cooperation with state and county health and safety officials is working hard on the plans for the fair. The board hopes to be able to see all of its patrons, volunteers, and supporters of the fair at that time.”

The Columbia County tradition was first held in October 1841.

The Dutchess County Fair will return this August, Fair President/CEO Andy Imperati said Wednesday.

The fair will take place at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck Aug. 24-29.

Fair organizers continue to await state guidance.

“We are still waiting for COVID-19 guidelines from Albany and have been actively working with our county executive and his team, as well as the Dutchess County Department of Health to have a plan in place to safely open our gates,” Imperati said. “As we get closer to the fair, we will look at what protocols will need to be in place for us to have a fair.”

The first Dutchess County Fair was held in Washington Hollow in 1842. It was moved to Rhinebeck in 1919. This year marks the fair’s 180th year.

This year’s fair may look a little different to adjust to the pending COVID-19 guidelines, Imperati said, but organizers are excited to bring people back together.

Fairgoer favorites, including the midway, fun fair food, animals and free entertainment will all be part of the 2021 event.

For updates, check dutchessfair.com and the fair’s social media pages. Tickets and other information should be available in June.

The state economy has continued to reopen and increase capacity in businesses as New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreases from the peak of the virus surge.

The announcement came as plans remain touch-and-go for fairs statewide — the lack of state guidance being a key issue to proceed with large events.

Public safety issues and making a profit at a reduced capacity remain ongoing concerns, including for the expansive highly popular Erie County Fair.

“And that has been a problem,” Cuomo said. “ We could not say to the vendors we can get you ‘X’ percent capacity and the vendors have said to us if we cant get ‘X’ percent we’re not coming. As our positivity rate has come down we have been increasing the capacity.”

Increasing capacity makes an attraction more economically viable, the governor added.

“That’s true in baseball that’s true in music theaters that’s true for Broadway,” Cuomo continued. “If you can’t increase the capacity to their economic threshold, it doesn’t work. Up until now for many venues we’ve been below the economic threshold they have said, “If I can only have 25% people I can’t open. I don’t have enough people to make it economically viable.”

Given current COVID-19 positivity and death rates, Cuomo said, he believes the state can make opening economically viable for any venue, including fairs.

About 50% of eligible New Yorkers ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

The state’s vaccination rate will serve as another factor in how to resume local fairs.

“If I’m a stadium owner, or I’m an arena owner, or if I’m a county fair, I say, ‘Look, I can get more people if I increase the percentage of vaccinated,” Cuomo said.

If 100 percent of the people at a venue are vaccinated, it can operate at full capacity, he said, using a large sporting event as an example.

“Well, we only have 50% of the people vaccinated right now and you don’t want to say only vaccinated people go to the game, but as that vaccine number goes up and you have a larger vaccinated population you’re going to get closer and closer to 100% [capacity],” Cuomo said.

Bill Williams contributed to this report.

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