The COVID-19 pandemic has one more casualty—the 2020 Madison County Fair.

During a virtual meeting last week, the fair board made the decision not to hold the county fair this summer.

The decision which fair board vice president Essie Berry called “one of the hardest I’ve ever made” didn’t come easily. The fair had been scheduled to run July 15-18, but after evaluating Governor Ralph Northam’s recommendations for reopening due to the COVID-19 pandemic and input from sponsors, vendors and entertainers, the board voted unanimously to cancel the 2020 event.

It is projected that Madison County will be in phase two or three of the recovery/ reopening in mid-July, when the fair was scheduled. While social distancing requirements are predicted to be less stringent than now, phase two of Virginia’s reopening plan restricts gatherings to 50 people, impossible for a large event with livestock and craft exhibits, a carnival and various entertainers.

Berry said many of the sponsors have been hard hit by the pandemic and vendors and entertainers are also scrambling to coordinate their schedules with many events cancelling or rescheduling to later dates.

Even with restricting the numbers of attendees, the board felt there was no possible way to follow CDC guidelines for sanitation and felt that the best possible course of action was cancellation for 2020.

Cancellation is a bitter pill for the fair board to swallow. The annual event requires long-term planning and fundraising. Most years the board starts planning for the next year as soon as the animals ship out and the tents come down.

“It takes a lot of planning to put the fair together,” said Berry. “We started planning for 2020 last July. The silver lining is we have an extra few months to make 2021 even better. We will keep the “Love” theme for 2021. The fair is such a big part of our lives; we spend all year on this event that lasts four days. We’re all really sad not to be able to have a 2020 fair but the community’s safety is much more important, we will just put our energy into making 2021 the best fair yet.”

Kelly Mallory, 4-H Youth Extension Agent, said the program has been expecting this and has been working on an alternate plan for the livestock exhibitors as many committed to projects as far back as January. Mallory said several plans are being floated around; a virtual show, a small livestock show with no audience and an online support auction where sponsors could pledge support to a 4-Her towards their project. Mallory said the final decision will be made after viewing how other virtual events go and evaluating the safety recommendations for the size of gatherings.

“We have been able to keep up our programming virtually,” said Mallory. “One challenge now is that the kids are getting really tired of virtual life, they’re doing school online, meeting with friends online and now 4-H online and it is made even harder because internet here just isn’t that great or dependable. We’ve been working on contingency plans though so no matter what these kids can show their project animals.”

Madison isn’t the only county to not have a fair this summer. Orange County’s fair has also been cancelled along with that of Caroline County.

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