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The Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City has been canceled for 2020 due to the spread of the coronavirus in Oklahoma this summer.

Recent weeks have shown that the novel coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19 is beginning to spike again showing inconsistency with better-known strains of the common flu that become somewhat dormant in the summer.

The fair, planned for 11 days in September, has a $100 million impact on the economy of the Oklahoma City metro according to a trade association of state fair operators.

“The top reason is the uncertainty of the COVID-19 health crisis,” Scott Munz told Free Press in a phone call Friday morning.

Munz is the senior vice president of marketing and sales for Oklahoma State Fair, Inc. the 501(c)3 not for profit corporation that owns the Oklahoma State Fair event and operates all activities at the the OKC Fairgrounds during the year.

The City of Oklahoma City owns the 435 acres of the fairgrounds at the intersection of I-40 and I-44 and has an operating agreement with Oklahoma State Fair, Inc.

Decision

Munz said the organization continued to think as spring turned into summer that it would become clear to them what to do. But, the uncertainty of the spiking numbers right now and the possibility that it would be as bad or into another spike right around the time of the fair was why they decided to cancel.

“It’s hard to say what the environment’s going to look like in September but because we’re dealing with exhibitors, vendors and suppliers that have to start collecting those materials now in order to be ready in September, we needed to give them as much advance notice as possible,” Munz said.

“Always looming in the background was [what if we] make the decision that we’re going to have a fair,” Munz continued. “And, then all of a sudden, there’s a huge spike the week before the fair or the day before or the day after we open and they shut us down.”

Houston Livestock Show

That wasn’t just an imagined scenario. Something similar already happened in Houston as the pandemic started to find its way into Texas at the beginning of March.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the big, weeks-long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was abruptly shut down mid-way through their schedule by county officials in March as the coronavirus started to show signs of community spread in the Houston area.

The massive series of events was slated to take place from March 3-22 but was closed on March 11. By that point 566,000 people had attended. But, in 2019, the entire schedule brought in 2.5 million people over the full 21 days.

No estimate of the financial costs of the move were given in the Chronicle’s report.

Contain the spread

Also, Oklahoma State Fair leaders didn’t want to hold an event that would spread the disease.

“Obviously, we want to do our part to mitigate the spread of the disease and realize that as we bring carnival operators, exhibitors, food booths and musical performers in from all points … and social distancing at the fair is virtually impossible,” said Munz.

“Can you imagine social distancing of the cinnamon roll line or whatever?”

He also cited the many livestock show events that go on each year during the 11 days of the fair. Most especially showing livestock and other youth events put large numbers of people in close proximity.

Oklahoma State Fair
The Youth Livestock Judging Contest gets under way in 2016 at the Oklahoma State Fair. The close interaction of youth and adults in the livestock shows during the fair were cited as one of many examples where distancing would be nearly impossible. (file photo, BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

State Fair president’s statement

“The impact of the State Fair’s cancellation will be felt far beyond the loss of our annual celebration,” stated Timothy J. O’Toole, President & CEO of Oklahoma State Fair, Inc.

“We are tremendously saddened for the businesses, large and small, that rely on the income and exposure that the State Fair brings them each year,” said O’Toole.

“We are also heartbroken for our staff, who have worked so diligently on planning for this year’s Fair; the competitors and exhibitors, who take part in our various creative arts, horse and livestock events; and of course, the general Fairgoers who look forward to attending the Fair each year.”

Convention bureau responds

Mike Carrier, President of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), identified the Oklahoma State Fair as “one of the highest-attended annual events” for the metro.

“While we understand the difficult decision to cancel this year’s state fair, we appreciate their focus on the safety and well-being of participants and attendees,” said Carrier.

“The OKC CVB will continue to support other events taking place at the OKC Fairgrounds, as this venue and staff make significant contributions to our city.”


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