Despite a troubling rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and transmission rates across the state, and as the Delta variant continues to rip across the country, the annual Minnesota State Fair won’t require masks or vaccines this year.
After taking a pandemic pause in 2020, the 12-day sendoff to summer returns next week from Thursday, August 26 to Monday, September 6 (Labor Day). Considered the largest U.S. state fair by average daily attendance, the Great Minnesota Get-Together can draw upwards of 200,000-plus people a day to Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Spread out across 322 acres, the annual mecca for foodies features over 300 vendors slinging everything from cheese curds to footlongs to deep-fried candy bars.
“We understand that by urging rather than requiring people to follow current guidance, many of our usual fair fans will not be comfortable attending,” according to a statement from fair officials on Wednesday. In light of the ongoing health crisis, however, officials advise attendees to wear one because it’s the “right thing to do,” and emphasized that top-down enforcement would be unmanageable for an event of this size.
“We are largely an outdoor event with plenty of eating and drinking. Mandating masks fairgrounds-wide would be extremely difficult for our organization to enforce,” the statement says.
The decision to forgo a universal mask mandate comes the same week Minnesota health officials reported the highest number of patients hospitalized with COVID since mid-May. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health recommend everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in public, indoor settings in areas with substantial or high transmission.
Unlike a rising number of large events around the country, the fair also won’t ask for proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test for entry. California just became the first state to require one or the other from people attending indoor gatherings of 1,000 or more starting next month. While getting poked is far from a traditional fair feature, free vaccines will be offered on-site at the North End Event Center with no ID or insurance required. The state reported 1,163 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, August 18.
Patrons age 2 and up are “strongly” urged to wear a mask in the following fair settings:
- Indoors, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated attendees
- Outdoors in crowded settings, especially if you are not vaccinated
- At some independent vendor booths where they require everyone in their booth to wear a mask
The only places masks will be required, regardless of vaccine status, are at the Care & Assistance and First Aid buildings and the North End Event Center to donate blood or get a vaccine. Patrons are reminded to wear a face-covering if they’re taking public transit, per federal regulations; unvaccinated patrons are required to wear masks on trolly rides on-site, and free masks will be on hand at the fair for those who forget.
Guests are also encouraged to go during the week to avoid its historically large crowds. The annual fair’s last go-around in 2019 experienced peak attendance of 245,243 during its final Sunday but just 96,716 on its first Monday. To monitor crowds, a new “Gopher Gauge” feature on its website will track volume throughout the day. To encourage social distancing inside buildings, there will be fewer livestock and commercial exhibits.
Since its inception in 1859, the fair has been held every year with six exceptions that included the Civil War, polio epidemic, and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.