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No COVID Restrictions In Place Yet For Maryland State Fair

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Maryland State Fair
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Maryland State Fair

The Maryland State Fair is returning to Timonium this year. The fair, which on good years draws a crowd of more than 500,000 over two weeks, was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as workers make the final preps to open on August 26, the growing delta variant looms large.

Yet, as of now, there are no COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Andrew Cashman, the fair’s general manager, said the year off is causing a few problems as they work to get ready to go in less than two weeks.

“We have a door that’s locked that we don’t use except for the fair. And nobody can find the key,” Cashman said.

They’re checking those things that are only used for the fair and haven’t been touched in two years, like the food pavilion and the farm and garden building.

“We’re excited,” Cashman said. “This is what we do. This is what we’re here for.”

The specter of COVID hangs over all this planning and excitement

As of Thursday, the Maryland State Health Department reports the state’s positivity rate was 4.39%. Baltimore County’s Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Branch, said for now he is not mandating any restrictions at the fair. But he’s skipping it this year, because he does not want to be in a large crowd.

“Because I have a grandchild, who’s a newborn,” Branch said. “I want to see my grandchild. And I want to play with my grandchild. I just don’t do those types of things at this particular time. But that’s my personal choice.”

Branch said an exception to that is if he’s working. Every day at the fair, the Baltimore County Health Department will be offering the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I will work there,” Branch said. “But I would have on my mask and my gloves and I would work and give people their vaccines.”

As of now, there are no restrictions on the size of the crowd at the fair. There also is no masking mandate in place. But if you go, Dr. Branch recommends you wear one, whether indoors or outside. He also said to continue practicing social distancing and washing your hands.

Cashman, the fair’s general manager, said there will be hand sanitizers available. There will be more cleaning crews and the ride company will disinfect the rides.

“They just spray the different spots and things where people sit and ride just to keep the rides clean,” Cashman said.

He is expecting large crowds if the weather cooperates because county fairs have been attracting a lot of people so far this summer.

“I think people want to get out,” Cashman said. “They’ve missed the fairs. They’ve missed seeing the animals and the rides and all of that. I think people are excited about being able to come to the fair.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baltimore County has a substantial transmission rate. That’s based on the number of new COVID cases and the positivity rate over seven days.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said leading up to the fair, they are closely watching the COVID numbers.

“The good news about the state fair is that a lot of it is to be held outside,” Olszewski said. “We want to keep people safe, but we also do not want to close down fairs or festivals. We don’t want to have to close businesses.”

The State Health Department is investigating two confirmed COVID cases associated with the Cecil County Fair, which ran for nine days at the end of July. That’s according to health department spokesman Charles Gischler, who added contact tracing is continuing to try to identify any potential cases related to the fair.

While the state fair is the big moneymaker, other events are held at the fairgrounds.

With last year’s cancellation, officials said profits in the fall of 2020 were down by nearly 80%, or $4.7 million, compared to 2019.

But more than dollars were lost to last year’s COVID cancellation.

80-year-old Bill Langlotz has worked at the fair for 22 years. When he was a boy living in Glen Arm in northeast Baltimore County, he showed vegetables at the fair.

“You miss the people because there’s people you see once a year at the fair,” Langlotz said. “They always come in and chat with you and talk about how their life’s been for that year you know and what not. And you miss seeing all of those familiar faces.”

Langlotz said he’s not concerned about COVID as he gets ready for this year’s fair.

Dr. Branch with the health department said he’s hoping for the best.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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