Following a year of record-breaking lows in tourism revenue, state officials are eager to reopen the N.C. State Fair this year.

But has anything really changed about it to make the fair safer?

Like most big events, the fair was forced to shut down last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, things were, by today’s standards, relatively calm—this was before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, but just before the big upswing in cases over the holidays.

On October 14 of last year, the state was averaging about 1,923 cases per day. The average number of hospitalizations was 1,387. 

Today, with only 54 percent of people fully vaccinated and the Delta variant still lingering, the statistics are worse. The state averages about 3,245 cases per day, almost double the number this time last year. The average number of hospitalizations is 2,629, a 90 percent increase over last year. 

Yet the fair—unlike some other outdoor festivals and music concerts—is not requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test for entry. Nor are face masks required. 

“We’re following CDC recommendations and there’s no recommendation for masks outside from the CDC,” Gov. Roy Cooper told CBS yesterday as the fair gates opened.

“I think if you’re in a big crowd of people and you’re going to be there for a long period of time outside, then you would want to put a mask on. However, one of the things that I’m glad about is that you can come and get your vaccine at the fair.”

Experts agree visiting the state fair this year poses a risk to people who are unvaccinated.

At one county fair in Mississippi, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surged to new highs two weeks after the fair ended, writer Linda Poon reported for Bloomberg.

“It’s not clear how many were from the fair, but one local health expert believed it to be a ‘contributing factor,’” the story states. 

Like North Carolina’s, though, most state fairs across the country are not requiring masks or vaccines. Among those that are not are the Minnesota and Maryland state fairs, where organizers have said such a mandate would be impossible to enforce. 

Some state fairs have bucked that trend, and the low rate of COVID-19 cases among Lollapalooza attendees this summer (which required proof of vaccination) show such efforts may be worthwhile.

One thing’s for sure (and if Raleigh traffic is any indication), whether or not a mask is required, thousands of people are eager to go back to the N.C. State Fair this year. For them, it’s not only “worth the wait,” but worth the risk. 

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