By Taylor Boyd
The 68th annual Patrick County Agricultural Fair has been canceled for 2020.
Sonny Swails, a member of the Stuart Rotary Club, which organizes the fair, said the club started discussions about canceling the fair in May.
Members took the vote on July 20, after waiting “as long as they could to make a decision” to see how the Covid-19 pandemic would develop, and what the situation would look like this fall, he said.
Swails, who has been a club member for more than 40 years, said that while the fair was shut down for a few days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this is the, “first time in the history of the fair that it has been outright cancelled.”
The decision to cancel the fair was a tough decision for the club, and has left many disappointed, because it is among the most popular events in the county, Swails said.
However, the club decided holding the fair would not be a good idea because “the health risks are not worth the enjoyment it brings to the county.”
Had the fair proceeded, Swails said it would be limited to 500 people, including ride workers, vendors, fire and rescue squads, and other volunteers as per the official guidelines for event planning during the COVID-19 crisis.
He noted following official health and safety guidelines, such as the ability for attendees to maintain a 6-feet distance, wearing of masks in a public setting, and the thorough and frequent sanitation of the rides and communal areas such as the picnic tables, would have been difficult.
He said he also worries about how the fair’s cancellation may impact other local clubs and groups.
Swails explained that groups set up booths at the fair to fundraise for their organizations, some by selling food. None of that will be possible without the fair this year.
The cancellation also impacts the Rotary Club’s ability to donate to organizations and the Patrick County community, because the club will not be taking in monies from the fair.
Noting the fair is a source of tourism for the area, Swails said that the cancellation also will result in a decrease in revenue for the county.
He said that people from outside the county “come down to look around, eat food, and enjoy themselves,” but that current events have prevented this from happening.
Although Swails said he will miss the looks of happiness on children’s faces as they explore the fair, cancelling it “is the right thing to do. Public health concerns are more important than anything else.”