OTTUMWA — For now, the Wapello County Expo remains on schedule to begin in Ottumwa on July 12.
The coronavirus pandemic caused officials to announce the official cancellation of the 2020 Wapello County Fair on Monday, the first cancellation of the event since World War II.
Later on Monday, the NEMO Fair in Kirksville, Missouri, announced it was canceling events as well. The NEMO Fair said there will be a virtual fair held online that includes project judging, livestock shows, a horse show and small animal shows.
Other fairs throughout the region face similarly tough decisions.
“It’s been in the back of our minds,” Wapello County 4-H youth coordinator Cindy Emery said. “There are some virtual opportunities that could be made available for the kids if we cannot get together face-to-face, but right now that’s still in the beginning stages.
“Right now, I think we’re all hoping that things are going to clear up and we’ll be able to continue on with the normal routine. For the fairs that are in June, I’m sure it’s weighing on them quite a bit more.”
Other county fair boards are now left to decide how to continue should COVID-19 continue to be a prevalent threat. While certain restrictions have been lifted in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties thus far, gatherings of large crowds are still banned statewide.
Tom Barnes, volunteer manager of the Mighty Howard County Fair scheduled to begin on June 23 in Cresco, told Radio Iowa that backup plans to judge livestock and other exhibits are being worked on if the fair itself is canceled. Even if the fair continues, Barnes stated there will guidance needed on managing crowds.
“If we’re asked by the government or the health department to maintain some sort of surveillance as they come onto the grounds, that’s quite a bit of work in a short period of time to get set up,” Barnes said.
Linn County Fair board member Jennifer Dunn echoed those sentiments. The fair, located in one of the 22 Iowa counties that have yet to be reopened, is scheduled to begin on June 24.
“I think we all understand that fairs won’t look like it did in 2019,” Dunn said. “I think we’ve all come to that realization of how things are.”
The Greater Jefferson County Fair in Fairfield is currently slated to begin on June 23, though fair board officials announced on Tuesday that a decision on the status of the fair for 2020 will be made next week. The state’s oldest fair could go on as scheduled, be canceled altogether or could have alterations to the schedule of events including what Pekin FFA advisor Juston Lamb called “an exhibitor-only fair.”
“It would basically be like what they’re talking about with sports. Kind of like a baseball game with no fans, you’d have exhibitors and livestock with no spectators,” Lamb said. “Right now, I’m guessing just like everyone else. That’s kind of what I kind of envision it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. We could be back to normal by June.”
July is the busiest month for area fairs and expos. The Keokuk County Fair (July 10-12) and Expo (July 12-19) are scheduled to be held that month as is the Davis County Fair in Bloomfield (July 14-19), the Appanoose County Fair in Centerville (July 20-25), the Southern Iowa Fair in Oskaloosa (July 20-25) and the Van Buren County Fair in Keosauqua (July 20-27).
For the Wapello County Expo, one other advantage in being hopeful for keeping the event on the calendar is that the expo is strictly for 4-H members. The Wapello County Expo Grounds, located at 13011 120th Avenue, also allow for enough space that could make it easier to practice social distancing.
“There are a lot of open shows and concerts at a lot of fairs. We don’t have that, so that allows us to have more room available,” Emery said. “The exhibitor shows and the royalty pagent probably bring the most people out. We probably have 30-50 kids that are part of the pagent and a good 200 people there to watch their kids come through. There is a lot that goes on during that pagent that we would probably have to re-think right now.
“We’re still hopeful everything will be face-to-face. We’re not sure how we could do the pagent virtually. We’ll see how other fairs move forward. We still have plenty of time, we hope.”
The current deadline for registering animals for the Wapello County Expo is May 15, however Iowa State University has extended that to June 1 allowing the expo to potentially extend its deadline if needed. Many forms that need to be filled out can be found online. Copies are also available for anyone to pick up and drop off at the county’s extension office. Those picking up and/or dropping off forms must call to make appointments.
“We’re moving forward just as we’ve planned,” Emery said. “Hopefully, by mid-June, we’ll have a definite feel on how everything’s going to go. Hopefully, it will all go as planned.”