2020 Minnesota State Fair canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic

STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Officials canceled the Minnesota State Fair on Friday after its leader said the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for the show to go on.

“We all love the fair. And that’s exactly why we can’t have a fair this year,” General Manager Jerry Hammer told the fair’s governing board shortly before the unanimous vote.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm welcomed the decision but called it “a huge cultural loss for all of us,” and yet another indicator of how much disruption and harm the coronavirus is causing.

Malcolm said she told fair officials beforehand that the virus “is going to be with us at dangerous levels for some time.” While she said the decision to cancel the fair was theirs, “we certainly respect it and quite honestly appreciate it from a public health perspective. It’s certainly one way to avoid what otherwise would have been a pretty predictable accelerator of community spread at a time when a lot of people are still going to be vulnerable to the infection.”

The cancellation came as her agency reported 33 deaths from COVID-19 along with a spike of 813 newly confirmed cases, both of which are record highs. Minnesota has now had 842 deaths and 19,005 confirmed cases. The number of people hospitalized edged downward slightly to 534, but the number in intensive care rose to a new high of 233.

Health officials have been watching nervously as the need for ICU beds grows, with a peak demand forecast for early July. As of Friday afternoon, according to the state’s dashboard, 1,045 out of Minnesota’s 1,257 ICU beds were in use, though hospitals had the capacity to add 654 within 24 hours and another 466 within 72 hours for a total of 2,377.

Malcolm acknowledged during her department’s daily briefing that some hospitals’ intensive care units are “getting quite full.” Hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area are down to having 5% of their regular ICU beds available due to the steady increase in coronavirus patients, but also the resumption of other surgeries, she said.

Even if it weren’t for the health considerations behind cancelling the State Fair, Hammer explained, all state fairs depend on huge networks of exhibitors, agriculturalists, volunteers, sponsors, ride operators and entertainers. But many major entertainers have already canceled tours for the summer, he said, and most agricultural exhibitors are now saying they might not come.

“This is the time of year when things need to really take off, and we can’t do it,” he said. “There’s just not time. … If there was to somehow be a fair, it wouldn’t look like a normal fair at all.”

The “Great Minnesota Get-Together” is one of the most popular state fairs in the U.S. A record 2.1 million people packed the fairgrounds in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights last year to eat foods on a stick, view farm animals exhibited by young people, enjoy thrill rides and see major stars perform at the Grandstand.

While some fair fans had argued that it should be held for healthy people willing to take the risks, Hammer said a significant number of visitors have health risks that make them particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. If the fair can’t be held for everyone, he said, it shouldn’t be held at all.

This is the sixth time the Minnesota State Fair has been canceled since it was founded in 1859. The last was in 1946 due to a polio epidemic, one year after it was called off in 1945 due to World War II fuel restrictions. It was also canceled in 1861 due to the Civil War, in 1862 due to the U.S.-Dakota War and in 1893 because of scheduling conflicts with the world’s fair in Chicago.

“This is about playing the long game,” Hammer said. “This is about the future of the fair. This isn’t about doing something now. This isn’t about risking everything on a bad bet. This is about doing the right thing for the future of the fair. We’ve been here before.”

This year’s edition was scheduled to run scheduled from Aug. 27 through Labor Day, Sept. 7. Next year’s has already been set for Aug. 26 through Labor Day, Sept. 6, of 2021. Hammer has dubbed it “The Great Minnesota Get-Back-Together.”