One week after detailing plans to proceed as scheduled, organizers of the State Fair of West Virginia announced Thursday that they have voted to cancel the 2020 fair.
In a news release announcing its decision, the State Fair board of directors cited a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the area as the reason for the cancellation.
“When we first discussed moving forward with the 2020 State Fair, we knew it was a fluid situation that could change quickly,” CEO Kelly Collins said in the release. “Unfortunately, the number of COVID-19 cases surged only hours after our initial announcement. After speaking with local and state health officials, as well as community members, it was a hard decision, but the right decision to cancel.”
Health officials have identified coronavirus outbreaks at six churches around the state, including Graystone Baptist Church, near Lewisburg in Greenbrier County. Thirty-two members of that congregation have tested positive for COVID-19 and one is hospitalized, Gov. Jim Justice announced during his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday.
The state fairgrounds is located in Fairlea, also in Greenbrier County.
On June 4, Justice gave the go-ahead for fairs, festivals and amusement parks to resume operation as early as July 1. While many county fairs and festivals across the state already had announced plans to skip the 2020 season by that point, the Governor’s Office provided guidance for organizers looking to go on with their events.
That guidance included measures such as limiting crowd sizes and ensuring that proper social distancing is maintained. In their June 11 release announcing the vote to proceed with the State Fair as planned, organizers also said they would take safety precautions, including enhanced cleaning procedures and COVID-19 testing for carnival employees and fair workers.
“The initial decision to open the State Fair this year was based on thorough guidelines presented to us by local and state health officials in combination with low COVID-19 numbers in the area,” board Chairman Ralph Warren said Thursday. “We understood the situation has now changed, and the board felt it was important to act quickly. It’s difficult to make this decision, knowing the financial impact the State Fair has to our state and community.”
According to Thursday’s release, organizers are working to reschedule concerts for the 2021 State Fair. Once those details are announced, ticket holders will have the option to request a refund or roll over their tickets to next year’s event.
This year’s announced concert lineup included performances by country stars Cody Johnson and Jon Pardi, Southern-rock band Whiskey Myers and contemporary-Christian singer Chris Tomlin.
State Fair officials will be contacting vendors and those with camping reservations in the coming weeks, according to the release.
The State Fair of West Virginia was first held in 1941 and has been an annual event ever since, except from 1942-45 during World War II. The State Fair draws about 170,000 visitors each year over its 10-day run, with an economic impact on the state approaching $14 million.
The 96th State Fair of West Virginia is scheduled for Aug. 12-21, 2021.