Despite opposition from the state’s top health official, the Kansas State Fair will be held in Hutchinson in September.

The Kansas State Fair Board on Tuesday voted to proceed with the fair Sept. 11-20 with some precautions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Patrons will be required to wear masks at indoor commercial and competitive exhibit spaces and will be encouraged to wear them elsewhere. Crowd sizes will not be limited, The Hutchinson News reported.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Safety, told the board that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has steadily increased in Kansas since the state allowed most businesses to reopen and he expects that to continue.

“I understand you’re sitting in the hot seat about the upcoming fair,” said Norman, who appeared via Zoom. “I’m not an economist. I’m a public health officer and a doctor. Without question, we are seeing an immense spike in COVID-19 in this state.”
Norman said it would be difficult to enforce mask-wearing, social distancing, and smaller crowd sizes at a fair.

“I don’t think there will be a magical thing with seasonality, that it will peak between now and September,” he said. “I don’t see that. It will continue to spread. There will be new cases and it will be dangerous. We’re going, clearly, in the wrong direction.”
Fair General Manager Robin Jennison said staff has devised a plan to address safety concerns and it will be fine-tuned as needed.

“We appreciate Dr. Norman’s perspective from a health standpoint,” Jennison said before the vote. “But a lot of people really love this fair. It’s a tremendous boost for the economy of the area. A lot of us feel at some point we need to get back on with our lives. I don’t think we can shut down the country, or Kansas again. We need to get on with our lives as safely as we can. If you decided to have the fair, we’ll operate that fair as safely as we can.”

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Mike Beam also expressed concern about having the fair, noting it would be held when students are returning to school. He said that if cases increase dramatically in late July or August, the fair would have to be canceled, and “that’s the worst-case scenario.”