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Among several new features at this year’s Illinois State Fair will be an unwelcome one: COVID-19
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Among several new features at this year’s Illinois State Fair will be an unwelcome one: COVID-19.
As face mask and vaccination resistance simmer, the more transmissible delta virus variant spreads and there’s a marked increase in cases of COVID-19, which forced cancellation of last year’s fair, organizers of the 168-year-old tradition are emphasizing safety measures to thwart transmission of the persistent and poten- tially deadly virus.
Six sites will offer free COVID-19 vaccinations during the fair’s run, Thursday through Aug. 22. But regardless of vaccination status, face coverings will be required indoors and at Grandstand performances, as recommended by the fed- eral Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II said last week. And face masks will be encouraged when in a large crowd, such as at the kick-off Twilight Parade. “You’re required by the CDC guidelines to wear a mask indoors. And that’s what we’re asking people to follow,“ Costello said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that we have a family friendly event here, with as many people on the fair- grounds as is safely possible.”
A safe fair brings with it other more congenial attrac- tions making debuts, including the Jetpack Flying Water Circus, in which acrobats perform 40 feet above a swimming pool and the Dino-ROAR! exhibition, featuring live-action dinosaurs, including a growing T Rex, strutting in an educational program. The World of Wonders is a “throwback to the old circus days with the sword swal- lowers, fire breathers and escape artists,” state fair manager Kevin Gordon said.
Arkansas-based Miller Spectacular Shows is the fair’s new midway operator, and returns to Happy Hollow several carnival rides absent for several years, Gordon said, including the double-Ferris wheel “Sky Wheel” and the “Mega- Drop.“ Also available for the stouthearted will be North America’s only version of “The Eclipse,” which straps four people into pods that rotate inside a larger spin- ning wheel, reminiscent of watching eggs scrambled.
And what eventually will be a year -round attraction — a model and historic presentation of Route 66, one of the nation’s first interstate highways — will open this year.
The festival’s foundation — livestock shows — always prove entertaining as well. The fair, Costello said, “highlights everything that’s great in the state of Illinois.” Agriculture, with its $19 billion economic impact, employs as many as one in four people in Illinois, he said. “Everybody should be interested in agriculture in the state.”
But COVID-19 looms large. Particularly in central and southern Illinois, there is a strong resistance to forced face-coverings — a state senator and GOP can- didate for governor was ushered off the floor of the General Assembly last year for refusing a cover. Asked repeatedly about conse- quences for noncompliance, Costello would not answer except to say his team is working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and at the end of the day we’re asking people to follow CDC guidelines, so we can have a fair, a safe fair.”
Organizers and fair fans are eager to open the agricultural showcase canceled last year, the first time there was no fair since the grounds were used as a military supply depot from 1942-1945 during World War II. But on Friday, the Illinois Department of
Public Health reported 16,742 newly confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois during the past week, a nearly fourfold increase from a month previous.
The vaccination sites — “I personally believe it’s your civic duty to get vaccinated, to protect others, not just to protect yourself,“ Costello said — will be accompanied by other mitigations.
There will be extra hand- washing stations, additional cleaning of surfaces fre- quently touched, and disin- fectant “foggers” deployed to mist carnival rides and Grandstand seating with 72-hour protection, accord- ing to a department spokes- woman.