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Wisconsin State Fair Opens With No Mask Requirement For Fairgoers, Physical Distancing Challenges

Wisconsin State Fair
Chuck Quirmbach
Rides such as the Skymaster await fairgoers to the Wisconsin State Fair.

After being shutdown in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Wisconsin State Fair begins a more, but not completely, normal 11-day run Thursday.

On the midway at the north end of the grounds, 42 rides await fairgoers. The fair will also have its usual animal barns, craft displays, musical performances, and bars and restaurants.

Wisconsin State Fair Park CEO Kathleen O'Leary said one thing new this year, due to the coronavirus and its delta variant, is a greater emphasis on cleaning. "Our hand sanitizers have always been in place; now we will have hundreds more all throughout the fair park. Hand washing stations. We're taking our biohazard sanitation cleaning to a whole another standard," she told WUWM Wednesday.

Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin State Fair Park CEO Kathleen O'Leary stands in the midway area of the fair.

O'Leary said that's a big part of why the fair has adjusted its hours and won't open daily until 11 a.m. "So, we've got that three extra hours in the morning, also for additional cleaning protocols. So, when people arrive at 11:00, we'll be ready to open our gates. The place will be clean, sanitized and ready," she said.

The later opening time will also allow all the booths, rides and buildings to be open at the same time, O'Leary said.

Lake Effect talks with Jen Puente, the fair's chief marketing officer, about other changes to this year's fair.

She said what the fair is not doing is requiring the public to wear masks. "We are following CDC guidelines, where masks are recommended in indoor facilities, and that is what we are hoping people will heed — they will wear them as a recommendation, but again, back to the individualistic decision," O'Leary said.

O'Leary said most of the 200 acres at the state fair are outdoor facilities. But she said social distancing will be impossible to enforce and is urging people to use their best discretion.

Earlier this week, Dr. Nasia Safdar, an infectious disease specialist with UW Health, told WUWM that she looks at mass gatherings like the state fair with trepidation.

"You know, transmission is all around us. So, I think it's going to be hard to avoid it. Our best hope for defense is the vaccine, coupled with the masking," Safdar said.

Chuck Quirmbach
Dawn Crim, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, joined state fair officials at a Wednesday news briefing to discuss safety checks of the various rides. Here, Crim leads a media tour of a ride called Big Bamboo.

As to the COVID-19 vaccine, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday that an onsite vaccine clinic at the fair will give people who get a shot a voucher is redeemable for a free cream puff.

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