The announcement that the Wapello County Fair has been canceled for 2020, the first cancellation since World War II, wasn’t a huge surprise. As businesses and organizations struggle to find a way to reach a semblance of normalcy in an era of social distancing, many are erring on the side of caution.

That’s a perfectly reasonable and understandable approach. So, for now, is the 4-H Expo’s decision to keep its event on the schedule.

There are obvious differences in when the events will take place. We should learn quite a bit more about the pandemic’s arc in Iowa over the next couple weeks. The fair’s deadlines were rapidly approaching, and a decision had to be made based on what we know now. The expo has a little more time to see how things play out.

The fair was hardly the first major event to be canceled, and it’s not likely to be the last. The best estimates for Iowa now show a later peak, a shift born of the decision to relax some of the restrictions the state had imposed on gatherings and businesses. And there can be no reasonable question that Wapello County is seeing a significant increase in the virus.

We do know what some of the key indicators are and how we should be watching them. It will be important in the coming days to see whether the increase in Wapello County cases is matched by neighboring counties. Viruses don’t respect borders, after all. It will also be important to watch the rate of positive tests to see whether the numbers continue to increase.

The rate tells you more about how quickly a virus is spreading than the raw test results. Increased testing should find more cases, and Wapello County’s testing has definitely increased in the past week. But that increased testing has also shifted the rate at which positive tests are being found, indicating that the virus is spreading. On April 23, state data showed 195 tests had been conducted in Wapello County. There were, at the time, seven confirmed positives. That’s a rate of about 3.5 percent.

By Wednesday morning, state figures showed 575 people in Wapello County had been tested, with 125 positives — for a 21.7 percent positive rate. A jump like that cannot be explained by testing alone. Local authorities have said as much, with Wapello County Public Health Director Lynelle Diers saying May 2 that the public “should assume that COVID-19 is establishing a stronger presence in this county.”

The ability of events scheduled for later this summer to safely take place depends on people continuing to take precautions. The virus cannot spread if people who have it don’t come into contact with people who don’t.

The advice from local officials has been clear and consistent throughout this crisis. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you feel sick. While we continue to maintain they should be more transparent with information, they have done an outstanding job of staying on message about how people can best protect themselves.

No one wants more cancellations. But, unless people act with common sense, they will become inevitable.

A spring like none in living memory is going to become a summer with few precedents. It remains, however, up to all of us whether it is one marked by restrictions or by responsibility. The latter is far more desirable.

Recommended for you