Masks a ‘matter of preference’ at the Mississippi State Fair
By LEAH WILLINGHAM
Associated Press/ Report for America
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Preparations for the Mississippi State Fair’s grand opening moved forward Wednesday amid criticism that masks will not be required at the event after the governor repealed the statewide mask mandate.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson took to social media throughout the day to post photos of fair workers setting up concession stands: one was selling roasted corn, another – the ‘Beef Barn’ run by the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association – was decorated with a life-size cow on its roof emblazoned with the American flag.
The commissioner also posted a video on social media showing two workers spraying high-power sanitization mist on one of the fair’s rides.
“Come social distance on the high speed Star Dancer, one of more than a dozen new rides,” Gipson tweeted.
Dozens of people posted in the comments of Gipson’s social media post about their plans to attend the fair. The event usually draws thousands to the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in the state capital every year for food, carnival rides, music and agricultural expositions. This year, the fair will run from Oct. 7 to Oct. 18. Doors were scheduled to open at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Others said they were choosing not to attend because of safety concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
“If you’ve ever been to the Mississippi State Fair, you already know: social distancing is practically impossible,” said Zeke Morgan, a student at the University of Southern Mississippi who grew up in Jackson attending the fair. “This will be a super-spreader event and that’s something that Mississippi can’t handle.”
Kimberly Cooley of Duck Hill, said she has also attended the fair in the past, but had no intention of attending this year because of the outbreak.
“I think it’s the most ridiculous excuse to not be responsible individually and the perfect excuse for fair officials not to be accountable,” Cooley said, of fair official’s decision not to require masks at all fair events.
Reeves previously said during the planning process for the fair that it was likely masks would be required. Then, a week before the fair was scheduled to begin, he repealed the state’s mask mandate.
Gipson said donning face coverings at the fair will be a “matter of personal preference.”
“We strongly encourage fairgoers to bring a mask in case they are not able to socially distance,” Gipson said in a statement this week.
Gipson said officials have been working hard to create a fair that balances fun and safety. Masks for adults and children will be provided at the fair’s entrance for those wishing to wear them. Indoor events will be limited to 25% of occupancy and there will be a safety marshal in charge of enforcing social distancing.
In addition, hand sanitizing stations will be scattered around the fairgrounds and no more than 200 people will be allowed per acre on the 105-acre complex at any given time.
Gov. Tate Reeves spoke about the fair at a news conference in mid-September, saying it’s up to each person to decide whether or not they wish to attend because of the risks.
“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. “If you are concerned or if you are scared, you get to make a personal choice to not attend.”
Current executive orders allow social gatherings of up to 100 people outdoors and 20 people indoors when social distancing is not possible.
The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported at least 102,000 reported cases and at least 3,000 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. While most people who contract the virus recover after experiencing only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.
Among events listed on the fair schedule on the Mississippi State Fair webpage are petting zoos, pig races and lumberjack shows.