The Gasconade County Fair Board Association met Thursday night with city and county emergency officials before deciding on a 22-5 vote to cancel the 2020 Gasconade County Fair.
Fair Board President Nick Baxter asked emergency personnel to share with the 28 board and community members present (60 total present) about what having the fair would look like.
Gasconade County Health Administrator Greg Lara and Molly Maddox, Environmental Public Health Specialist (EPHS) were the first to speak.
“If you decide to go ahead with the fair, do your best to follow social distancing guidelines, wear face masks — outside it is not as effective as indoors.”
Lara suggested looking at restrooms, food vendors, and make sure they are following precautions by wearing gloves and masks. He also reminded people that if they are sick, not to come to the fair and if they don’t think they can stay healthy and keep others healthy around them, don’t come to the fair.
“From what we are hearing the virus spreads from mostly airilization — laughing, yelling, singing,” Lara said.
Gasconade County Interim Sheriff Mark Williams would say later during his presentation that they needed to be real.
“It’s not my decision, but let’s not kid each other — there won’t be social distancing. In the beer garden alone, people are spitting, yelling, vomiting — a normal fair,” he said.
Board members argued that they couldn’t keep people from doing those things. Also the board would be responsible for sanitation.
“Some events, people wore out and ran out of soap and hand sanitizer,” Lara said.
Baxter interrupted about the sanitation issue.
“On hand sanitizer stations, the problem is to be able to obtain those supplies to start with,” Baxter said.
Williams mentioned he may be able to get some sanitation supplies for the board if the fair goes on, as long as they pay for it. Owensville Mayor John Kamler said they also need to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
“Disinfect every building before it starts and every day, multiple times a day,” Kamler said. “They also want rides to be wiped down each time as far as insurance requirements.”
Lara said wiping down the rides after people disembark before someone else boards would be more defensible in case of a lawsuit.
Discussion about wearing gloves and changing them each time money, tickets and food are exchanged and how many gloves would have to be purchased left many shaking their heads.
An official from 911 Dispatch said they would support the fair board in whatever decision they went with.
“At this point, there will be no command center at the fair, but the decision can be changed,” the official said.
Williams said that greatly affects his people, and he could be the only one working the command center, but the only way to contact deputies would be on their handheld radios.
Owensville District Ambulance Administrator Karen Hubenthal said she would be brief.
“We will be here for whatever, but I have to protect my own people. The ambulance coverage will be downsized,” Hubenthal said.
She added that normally the district asks for assistance from neighboring districts to cover the fair, but that should have been scheduled already. The first aid stand will be limited to one or two people.
Williams said he would also want more officers this year.
“For me, it is going to be a challenge because we are just about the only fair around,” he said, adding that law enforcement is not very popular right now. “Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the state of Missouri is coming to Gasconade County because they all want to go to the fair.”
Williams said he wanted 18 officers on both Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to close, an additional three officers a day from last year, and 25 officers on Friday and Saturday nights, same time, up from 22 a day last year.
Maddox with the health department asked Williams if he would have to call in more officers if they had an influx of people there.
“No, we wouldn’t have no one else to call,” Williams said. “We would have to adapt, improvise and overcome.”
Jason Grosse asked if the sheriff could deputize people at the fair and Williams said he thinks he can.
“The command post will be an issue and the beer garden will have 500 to 600 people — COVID-19 will be out the window,” he said. “If someone in my department tests positive, I only have nine people in my department. It would shut us down.”
Gasconade County Commissioner Jim Holland told the board that commissioners discussed the fair board’s situation at their meeting earlier in the day and said they would rather error on the side of caution.
“We don’t know. It’s really scary,” Holland said. “But if I had kids raising hogs, I would want this. I don’t think anyone has an answer here.”
He added that he ran into Mike Feagan earlier in the day and was told it takes at least 1,400 volunteers to put the fair on. Baxter said he had a list of businesses who were pulling their volunteers because they don’t want to take the risk of employees bringing COVID-19 back to the business. That leaves them short on volunteers.
Since many people were concerned about the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H kids who had raised animals to show at the fair, Baxter said they had already worked out that the kids could show and sell their animals at sale barns in Fulton and Cuba.
“We draw people from St. Louis, Cole County, Franklin County — three of the hotspots for COVID-19. I would hate to have even one case and there are three big nursing homes and elderly senior housing,” Baxter said. “We have thought of ways to take care of the kids and get the shows done.”
He said in order to get out of the contracts it would cost the fair board around $15,000 to $20,000, but they could recover from that. They couldn’t recover from a loss of $200,000 to $500,000 if the fair is a flop and entertainers cancel and don’t return funds.
“I think it would be the end of the fair,” Baxter said.
Board members voted anonymously on pieces of paper and handed them in to the president for the final count.
“I’m not going to say the count, but it’s overwhelming — no fair,” Baxter said.
He asked folks not to put the information out on social media right away so they could contact their contractors and entertainers to let them know of the cancelations. Also, they will contact their advertisers for the fair catalog and let them know their purchased ads will be credited to next year’s event and political candidates should contact the board for a refund.
The board plans to have their July meeting and continue planning their other yearly events as usual.