In 2020, the pandemic shifted the way people attended the annual event, pivoting to a drive-thru experience. This year, things are feeling a bit more normal: a fully vaccinated Big Tex has ditched his mask and people can mill around like old times.
Yet coronavirus cases are still climbing, leading public health experts to ask fairgoers to abide by certain safety guidelines.
People should attend the fair vaccinated and masked, said Dr. Mark Casanova, a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force. If not vaccinated, though, they should “absolutely, positively” don a face covering.
Casanova also encourages unvaccinated people at high risk for complications to sit this year out.
“As a Dallasite and a Texan, and given what the fair does for our community and the economy, we certainly want it to be successful,” said Casanova, who is also the immediate past president of the Dallas County Medical Society. “We just don’t want it to be a super-spreader event.”
During the worst of the pandemic last year, a number of events, festivals and fairs were canceled to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Even though Dallas County’s threat level is still in the red, North Texans are ready to get back to whatever shreds of normalcy they can.
The fair has some advantages working in its favor, Casanova said: It’s a large physical space and primarily outdoors. On the downside, the fair has some indoor venues, but they tend to be fairly big and reasonably ventilated.
At the same time, high-concentration areas are causes for concern, such as long lines for tickets, the restroom or food, Casanova said. People should take advantage of the "plethora" of hand-sanitizing stations that will be scattered throughout the site.
Last year, the fair closed because of a less virulent strain than the delta variant, he said. Still, revelers should be able to enjoy a cold beer and turkey leg, provided they put their masks back on between sips and bites.
"It’s better to focus on how we can participate in these activities in a safe way." – Dr. Rajesh Nandy
“But if you’re on a tilt-a-whirl, and you’re screaming and shouting and unmasked, that’s going to be a lot of droplets spread,” he said.
The State Fair of Texas is encouraging people to wear masks and mandating face coverings indoors, according to its website. Using masks outdoors is recommended, but officials say enforcement would be difficult for them to keep up with.
The fair will also provide more than 500 free hand sanitizer stations throughout the grounds. Plus, they’re asking that everyone get vaccinated, which they can do while at the fair. There, anyone 12 and older can receive a first or second dose of the Pfizer vaccine or a booster shot for those who are immunocompromised, according to a news release.
Dallas County residents who get a shot will receive $20 in coupons for rides and food.
Fair Park is one of the county’s most recognized sites where residents can get the COVID-19 jab, said Dr. Philip Huang, director of the county’s health department.
“We hope that anyone who is still not yet vaccinated will take advantage of this additional opportunity to get the shot,” he said in the news release.
Some North Texans are determined to attend the fair regardless of what’s going on with the pandemic, said Dr. Rajesh Nandy, a biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
“It’s very hard to be under complete restriction of all activities for such a long period, so it’s really too much to ask from people anyway at this point,” he said. “It’s better to focus on how we can participate in these activities in a safe way.”
Moving forward, though, Nandy doesn’t expect surges in cases to peak as high as anything scientists saw in the past. Certain data appears to indicate that more people are willing to comply with masking guidelines, which will help get cases back under control.
But waving the virus goodbye is still a way off. As it stands, Nandy said it may be difficult to completely prevent COVID-19 from spreading further.
“Unless there is a big uptick in vaccination, essentially what will happen is that we will have these cycles of ups and downs in the foreseeable future,” he said.