ST. PAUL — The Minnesota State Fair is recommending attendees — no matter their vaccination status — wear face masks to the fair that begins next week as new coronavirus cases continue to rise.
But they stopped short of saying masks or proof of vaccination would be a requirement to attend, saying such mandates would be "extremely difficult" to enforce.
In a Wednesday, Aug. 18, update, the fair admitted "the current health situation is not an ideal backdrop" as the fair draws near, and said it "strongly urge(s)" fair attendees to wear masks "not because it’s mandated, but because it’s the right thing to do."
They specifically requested fair-goers to mask up in indoor settings, crowded outdoor settings and at some vendor booths where they require masks, whether the attendee is vaccinated or not. The fair asks attendees to bring their own masks, but if people forget, they will be provided at the entrance gate.
"We are largely an outdoor event with plenty of eating and drinking," the fair said in a news release. "Mandating masks fairgrounds-wide would be extremely difficult for our organization to enforce, so we are urging you to pitch in and do what’s right."
Aligning with health officials' messaging, the fair still says "the best thing you can do for yourself and for everyone," is get vaccinated against the virus, especially as the highly contagious delta variant sweeps through the country. They said it's especially helpful for those who are too medically vulnerable to be able to get the shot, or children under 12 who are not yet able. While some breakthrough coronavirus cases in vaccinated individuals occur, the "vast majority" of the latest wave of cases is among the unvaccinated.
Attendees will not be required to show proof of vaccine in order to enter the fair, but the fair and Minnesota Department of Health still encourage everyone able to get vaccinated. If attendees aren't vaccinated yet upon arrival, free vaccines will be provided at the North End Event Center during the fair, no ID or insurance required.
The fair is also urging other public health precautions, such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing or sanitizing. Minnesotans are asked to stay home if they're not feeling well, or have had close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID. And the fair is urging Minnesotans to "make an informed decision" on whether to attend based on their own personal health situation. Immunocompromised people and their caregivers are still advised to avoid large gatherings under the DOH's most recent guidance.
With cases still on the rise, some organizations who planned to have tables or tents at the fair have pulled out, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness state chapter and the Minnesota Council on Disability. In an open letter penned last week to fair leadership and government officials, the council said it "cannot endorse the decision to make masking optional at the State Fair" and condemned leaders' "refusal to make hard decisions that will upset some but likely save many."
"These policies, or lack of policies, appear to be overlooking Minnesotans with disabilities and other marginalized communities, making people’s health a secondary priority," they wrote.
Also on Wednesday, five Minnesota state legislators, who are also health care professionals, penned a letter to the State Agricultural Society and State Fair Board of Managers urging them to make mask-wearing mandatory for all fair attendees. Reps. Kelly Morrison and Liz Boldon, as well as Sens. Matt Klein, Chris Eaton and Erin Murphy, wrote that, "The gold standard would be to require all attendees be vaccinated, but short of that, we ask that you set a clear and strong policy requiring masks for all attendees."
"A universal mask policy is an important and necessary mitigation strategy to prevent this year's State Fair from becoming a super-spreader event and to protect Minnesotans across the state, including kids under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccinations," they wrote.
The fair will run from Aug. 26 through Sept. 6, 2021 at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. Regularly updated guidelines can be found here.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Wednesday's State Fair health update and mask recommendation was issued by the State Fair, not the state Department of Health.