ST. PAUL — The Minnesota State Fair board of managers on Friday, May 22, is set to weigh whether the great Minnesota get-together will be able to hold its annual event this summer.
The discussion comes as the state grapples with a growing case count of Minnesotans sickened with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and a mounting death toll. The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported that 18,200 people had been confirmed positive for the disease and 809 had died from it.
With the pandemic in mind, the board will consider whether to hold the 12-day gathering beginning in August. It wasn't immediately clear whether the board planned to issue a decision Friday following its meeting.
Each year, hundreds of thousands convene on the state fairgrounds each day of the event to eat, gather and enjoy the festivities and attractions. Last year, more than 2 million attended the fair, an all-time record.
But the large crowds and sometimes confined spaces at the fairgrounds could pose a significant risk of transmission of COVID-19, state health officials said Thursday. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that even if the state has passed a peak in cases by late August, "there would still be a great great deal of community spread and a great risk of community transmission."
Walz administration officials on Wednesday said they would continue slowly turning the dials toward reopening businesses and social gatherings in the coming weeks, with restaurants and salons set to return at limited capacity next month. But gatherings of hundreds of people, let alone thousands, were several steps away. And state health officials had no definitive date yet on when gatherings of that scale could be safely allowed.
"I think it will be difficult to see a State Fair operating,” Gov. Tim Walz said last month when asked about the prospect of the fair going forward as planned this summer. “I don’t know how you social distance in there."
The fair has been canceled five times since its inception in 1859: in 1861 and 1862 because of the Civil War and U.S.-Dakota War, in 1893 due to a scheduling conflict with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in 1945 due to travel restrictions during World War II and in 1946 as a result of a polio epidemic.