MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – The Manatee County Fair is set to open its gates Thursday evening despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Organizers tell 8 On Your Side they’ve spent several months planning to ensure the safest fair environment possible.
“We actually started planning in March this year. We have 11 committees that work together to put on our fair. Every committee has met and they have come up with COVID-specific guidelines to make this fair as safe as possible,” said Fair Manager Danny Alfonso.
If you’re familiar with the Manatee County Fair, Alfonso says to expect a completely different fair this year. The bright lights, games, rides, fair food, arts and crafts, and agricultural experiences will still be a part of the fair, but things will look different.
Alfonso says social distancing measures have been put in place including; vendors being spaced out to allow fairgoers to social distance while waiting in line, dozens of sanitizing stations easily accessible across the fairgrounds, limited ride capacity with sanitizing happening between each cycle, one-way lanes around the fairgrounds to keep crowds moving in the same direction and face masks are required inside and strongly recommended outside when social distancing isn’t possible.
There will also be a sanitizing crew dedicated to keeping high-touch surfaces clean and sanitized.
“We are applying an anti-microbial to everything on the fairgrounds including tables, chairs, bleachers. Everything is being treated. That product is guaranteed for 30 days. It lasts up to 90 days, but it is guaranteed for 30 days,” said Alfonso.
Organizers tell 8 On Your Side they’re taking the virus seriously and understand not everyone will want to participate this year.
“We understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and we would ask that everybody review their own health and make a determination… if they feel safe and comfortable, we would love to have them come out, but we also understand that that may not be possible this year,” said the fair manager.
Palmetto resident Edward Ashby says he looks forward to attending the fair every year; it has become an annual tradition for his family. This year, Ashby will attend, but says COVID-concerns will keep some of his older family members home.
“You play it safe, you play it smart, wear a mask. you take your mask down and you eat your pizza and your corn dog or whatever and you go from there,” said Ashby.
Eddie Porcelli is a board member of the Florida Federation of Fairs and says many of the vendors have been out of work since last spring and worked together to make this year’s event as safe as possible.
“The Manatee County Fair Association has worked so tirelessly and hard to make sure the fair goes off for the community. Fairs are important for the community. Fairs are important for the folks that raise their animals to auction them off here so that they can have college educations. We are a vital part of the community. I can’t thank the Manatee County Fair Association enough for all the hard work they have done,” said Porcelli.
Alfonso explains the Manatee County Fair prides itself on promoting agriculture.
“One of the biggest reasons why this is so important is because we have 770 youth exhibitors that have either entered livestock or plants in our fair this year,” said Alfonso. “A lot of them started their project as soon as the fair was over in January of last year, so we needed to be able to provide them a venue to be able to promote their animals, show their projects, but also sell their project,” he continued.
Gates open Thursday at 5 p.m. The fair runs through Jan. 24.
For more information on admission and a schedule of events visit the fair’s website.
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