COVID-19 cancels full Belmont County Fair and Pumpkin Festival
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — New COVID-19 coronavirus mandates from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine have put a halt to the Belmont County Fair, along with the popular Barnesville Pumpkin Festival.
“(DeWine) basically stated every county fair that happens after July 31 can only be a junior fair,” Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul said Tuesday afternoon. “Belmont County was hoping to do a full one. … Other ones that have had full fairs prior to this, they had so many issues with people not wearing masks, not social distancing, not following the rules. … You had some county fairs where they had some positives traced I guess to the fair.”
The decision to proceed with the fair occurred after considerable debate about safety. Sproul said his department was frequently consulted.
“They were trying everything they could. They were adding additional wash stations, additional signage, they had companies coming in to do additional cleaning of the facilities. They were doing their best to try and make it a safe event,” Sproul said.
Ed Campbell, president of the fair board, said he was disappointed on hearing the news, but added the junior fair and the chance for area youth to show their animals and skills remains the most important part of the September event.
“I’m kind of bummed out about it because the whole board has worked really hard to put this on, but we’ll do our best to give the junior fair and the 4-H and the FFA all we can to showcase what they’ve done,” Campbell said.
“The kids are the most important. That’s what we do this for. As long as we can maintain the course and get them through it, I think we’ll be alright,” Campbell said.
He could not estimate what the crowd sizes will look like at this point. The fair board has been planning safety considerations to limit the numbers of people in the barns. The board will likely meet in the coming weeks to further plan the event.
“I’m sure we’ll still have a decent crowd for the kids,” Campbell said.
He added thanks to the public who had shown overwhelming support during the initial plan to hold a full fair.
“We had a lot of volunteers come out and help us put things together, getting things ready. It was a bit disappointing for everyone, but we’ve got to follow the guidelines,” Campbell said.
Meanwhile, the restrictions also ended any hopes of holding the popular Barnesville Pumpkin Festival in late September. The festival’s committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to cancel what was supposed to be the 57th annual event.
Belmont County’s positive COVID-19 cases increased by one on Tuesday, according to Sproul, with the county standing at 641 positive cases as of Tuesday morning, and 585 recoveries and 31 active cases in isolation and four people are hospitalized.
His department continues the work of tracing people who may have had contact with a person who is positive with the coronavirus and is in danger of further passing the virus on to others. A total of 23 people in Belmont County have died while infected, including nine inmates of the Belmont Correctional Institution west of St. Clairsville.
There is also concern about future developments which will hinge on the spread of the pandemic. The district schools are hard at work fine-tuning the details of reopening this summer.
Sproul could not say if further concerns from the state about the dangers of mass gatherings might impact Barnesville’s ability to hold its annual pumpkin festival, which has historically proven a popular draw.
“You’re having large groups of people coming in,” he said. “That may factor into this, because normally the pumpkin festival is a very large gathering.”
The annual summer concert series is continuing at St. Clairsville’s amphitheater at 7 p.m. Tuesdays.
“They’ve been keeping numbers very low. They’ve been social distancing,” Sproul said. “We haven’t had anybody have any issue with what they’re doing there, so they must be complying with the rules.”