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Wisconsin State Fair Opens With Vaccine An Option, Along With Cream Puffs & Meat On A Stick

Wisconsin State Fair
Chuck Quirmbach
People walk along one of the Wisconsin State Fair's streets, near the grandstand, midday Thursday.

The Wisconsin State Fair is underway, with state officials urging unvaccinated fairgoers to get a shot at an onsite COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Masks are not required to attend the fair, but a small percentage of people were wearing the facial coverings during the fair's opening day Thursday.

COVID led to the cancellation of last year's state fair. But at a mostly upbeat opening ceremony Thursday, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said the next ten days will be good for making up for lost eating time.

"We are very excited to be back for some binge eating, and some revenge eating. So, I am very much looking forward to what's going to be on the plate and looking forward to taking a week of rest after eating my way through the state fair," Barnes joked.

Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks during Thursday's opening ceremony at the Wisconsin State Fair.

But Barnes, and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, also struck a serious note about the state's roughly 50% COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Evers urged people who have been immunized to bring unvaccinated friends or relatives to sites offering the vaccine. "It is really important. It is our only way we're going to beat this pandemic. We have people who haven't had a vaccine for various reasons, so whatever you can do personally that is really important," Evers told the audience of state fair officials and news media.

The opening ceremony did not include members of the public, due to COVID concerns.

Evers then walked to one of those vaccination sites, a state fair booth that will offer shots and give out a voucher for a free cream puff at the Cream Puff Pavilion. The booth is coordinated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and is just inside the fair park's south side entrance along Greenfield Ave.

Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (in cow hat) speaks with two people who just were vaccinated at the state fair vaccination booth. Adrianna Winston is at right.

When Evers arrived, there was a round of applause for two people who had just gotten a shot. Both are working at this year's fair. One of the people, Adrianna Winston, said she's finally over her vaccine hesitancy.

"It's something I wanted to do in past recent weeks. But when it first came out, there were a few concerns about how quickly it came out. So, yeah, I waited a while. But now, I guess everything seems fine, so I took it now," she told WUWM.

Winston said she's worried about the fast spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, and wants to better protect her household.

DHS says 33 people received shots Thursday.

The state fair says it's also trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by a stepped up cleaning program, especially in the morning before the fair's new opening time of 11 a.m.

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

But the fair is not attempting to enforce physical distancing and is not requiring masks, either outdoors or indoors — including inside the huge Exposition Center.

Chuck Quirmbach
Fairgoers inside the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park

As she was leaving that building with no mask on, Mary Dennis said late morning was a good time to be at the fair. "Most of the time we're outside and this time of day it's perfect. Not crowded inside the buildings. So, perfectly comfortable," she said.

Dennis said she's been vaccinated and urges others to get a shot.

As he was entering the Expo Center, Kevin Miller explained why he was wearing a mask: "Now we have the delta variant, now we have more people getting sick, and what happens after people get sick? Well, then, they die."

So far, COVID-19 cases are up in Milwaukee and the state but there has not been a spike in deaths. Health officials say there's now better treatment of infections, but that the typical time lag between illness and potential deaths bears watching.

The Wisconsin State Fair says it's prepared to handle the one million people who showed up at fairs before the pandemic, but it's unclear what attendance will be this year.

Chuck Quirmbach
One of the hand sanitizing stations at the State Fair. Fair officials say there are "hundreds" more stations this year.

The numbers will matter to the numerous vendors at the event. Dave Queen is an employee of the fair's Firehouse restaurant. He said he believes big crowds will show up, and want to enjoy themselves.

"I think people are just, they're ready to go. They're ready to spend some money and have a good time. Most people really aren't caring," Queen said.

And bands like The Jimmys, which played Thursday in the fair's Central Mall, will be hoping for a larger audience than the 20 or so people who caught their act.

The Wisconsin State Fair runs through Aug. 15.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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