Central Washington State Fair works to address COVID-19 concerns prior to opening Sept. 24

'We're 100% confident that the fair will be happening'

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Central Washington State Fair is moving forward as planned and has increased its COVID-19 protocols in hopes of preventing virus transmission at the event.

“Based on what we know today, we’re 100% confident that the fair will be happening,” Central Washington State Fair president and CEO Kathy Kramer said. “Unless something changes — and none of us have that COVID crystal ball — we are going to stay calm and ‘fair on’ and are going to open our gates on September 24.”

Everyone must wear a face mask indoors and outdoors — unless eating or drinking — in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate, which requires people to mask indoors at all times and outdoors during gatherings of 500 people or more.

“We realize that some of our guests might not agree with this mandate, but it is crucial we adhere to this for us to open our gates to the fair and remain open,” Kramer said. “We are getting a lot of support and feedback that the community is excited about being able to celebrate together despite the mask mandate.”

Kramer said they don’t know how many people to expect this year, but attendance has been close to 300,000 people in a 10-day period for the past several years. That excludes last year, when the fair was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We do not have any restrictions on capacity and when you’ve got a property as large as ours, we feel confident that people can certainly be spread out,” Kramer said.

While there are currently no health restrictions in place at the state or county level that would prevent the fair from moving forward, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital officials have expressed concerns about how large events like the fair could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and subsequently, hospitalizations.

The hospital is already at capacity and has been struggling to keep up with a high number of COVID-19 patients and an unprecedented emergency room volume. Hospital officials have said they’re moving closer to having to follow the path of hospitals in northern Idaho and transition to crisis standards of care.

In a virtual community forum Friday, YVMH President/CEO Carole Peet said hospitals in northern Idaho had to make that transition shortly after thousands of people attended the North Idaho State Fair.

“The Yakima fair is about to happen in a week,” Peet said. “That could be the trigger that we can no longer provide care here locally.”

Kramer said they’re basing their decisions on guidance from the state Department of Health and the governor’s office.

“We can’t shut life down completely; we’re operating under the guidelines of the governor’s office so that we can do this,” Kramer said.

Kramer said while they don’t anticipate a new round of COVID-19 restrictions from the state prior to opening Sept. 24, having to cancel the fair last-minute would be financially devastating.

“We would lose millions of dollars with our financial commitment from contracts from entertainers and food,” Kramer said.

Kramer said the fair has put additional measures in place to try to prevent community spread, including:

  • Adding more than 30 portable handwashing stations across the fairgrounds
  • Instituting new protocols for employees requiring them to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire and get their temperature checked prior to each shift
  • Increasing sanitation protocols: buildings with high-touch points will be fogged with disinfectant every night and carnival rides will be sprayed frequently with an eco-friendly solution.
  • Requiring all employees, vendors and partners to comply with the governor’s mask mandate and wear their masks at all times, unless eating or drinking
  • Adding additional eating areas to encourage people to sit down with their food

“I’m really excited about this one: we will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations on site at two locations during the fair,” Kramer said.

Kramer said masks will be provided at the gate to anyone who doesn’t already have one and staff wearing “mask up” t-shirts will be stationed throughout the fairgrounds to ensure people are complying with the mandate.

“People will have to wear a mask and if they refuse to do it, then at some point we will have to ask them to leave,” Kramer said.

Staff members will have extra masks on hand throughout the property in case someone loses theirs while out and about. Kramer said she doesn’t anticipate having issues with people refusing to wear masks.

“We’re going to do everything we can with all these additional protocols to keep our guests as safe as possible,” Kramer said. “And we just encourage folks to understand that this isn’t an easy position for any of us to be in.”