JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is planning to go ahead with its annual state fair in early October with new rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
New cases of COVID-19 have declined in the state in recent weeks, and officials said they have been working hard to design a fair that will keep attendees safe, despite the risk of the virus spreading in large crowds. The event draws thousands of visitors to the state capital each year for food, carnival rides, music and agricultural expositions.
“We understand that we’ve got to live a little bit, and if it’s something outdoors that we can do safely, we are prepared to try and make that happen,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Friday press briefing.
The 2020 Mississippi State Fair will take place Oct. 7 to Oct. 18 in Jackson. Among events listed on the fair's page are petting zoos, pig races and lumberjack shows — standard for the state fair, but Gov. Tate Reeves said this year's events will look a lot different than what people are used to.
Masks will be required for all guests, and temperatures will be screened at the fair entrance. There will be a safety marshal in charge of enforcing social distancing.
“There are going to be events that are not allowed, there are going to be indoor gatherings that are not allowed," Reeves said, adding that events are not “going to be tight and compressed, it is going to be spread out over the fairgrounds.”
The governor said it’s up to each person to decide whether or not they wish to attend with the risks involved.
“There are certainly risks associated with it, and if you are in the higher risk category, it's probably, like a lot of things, not a good idea for you to attend,” Reeves said during Friday's press briefing. "If you are concerned or if you are scared, you get to make a personal choice to not attend."
Current executive orders around social gatherings allow gatherings of up to 100 people outdoors when social distancing is possible, and up to 50 people when it is not possible. Reeves said he didn't believe the state fair falls under those rules, explaining on Friday that he considers the fair to be more of a “business operation” than a social gathering because some funds from the event go toward maintaining the state fairgrounds.
The Health Department said Friday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported at least 91,935 reported cases and at least 2,780 deaths from COVID-19 as of Thursday evening. That’s an increase of 497 confirmed cases and 12 deaths from numbers reported the day before.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most but can be more severe or fatal for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.