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Manatee County Fair first in nation to open its gates in 2021 despite ongoing pandemic

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) -The nation’s first fair of 2021 opened its gates and started welcoming visitors on Thursday evening, but doing so in the middle of a spike in coronavirus cases has many wondering if now is a good time to hold a fair.

Fair organizers in Manatee County are saying this year is going to look different, and they’re doing everything possible to make this fair safe for those who come out.

Organizers began planning the fair last March, and have implemented guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19. They have marked walkways with one-way only arrows, hired a company to come and spray everything down with a microbial spray, and vendors have been asked to only bring one trailer in order to socially distance people.

Masks will be required indoors, and even though the fair is mostly outdoors people will still need to wear their masks when socially distancing is not possible. Danny Alfonso, the fair manager says he understands this pandemic will affect attendance.

“We’re anticipating a significant amount of decrease. We understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and we would ask that everyone 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 may not be possible this year,” said Alfonso.

Many vendors have not worked since March and are counting on the fair for their businesses to survive.

“We understand they need to make a living. Most of them have shared with me, they can handle one year of not working, they won’t make it through two,” said Alfonso.

The fair’s mission statement is to promote agriculture. Alfonso says 770 Manatee County students ages eight and up entered livestock or plants into the fair this year. Many weren’t sure if their hard work would be recognized.

“A lot of them begin their project last January after our fair ended last year. So they had already put in the work, they have done their part and we needed to do our part to find a way to support them,” said the fair manager.

“What I was taken back by was how the kids were so broken hearted that we didn’t have the fair this year. Fairs are important for the community. Fairs are important for the folks that raise their animals to auction them off so they can have college educations. We are a vital part of the community,” said vendor Eddie Porcelli.

Organizers say they have been working closely with the county to make sure they’re ready to open amid the pandemic.

Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Hopes tells 8 On Your Side as long as the proper protocols are followed, ‘super spreader’ events can be avoided.

“We can do this. We are into the new normal and these protocols do work. It has been proven to work with very young four and five-year-old school children and adults,” said the epidemiologist. “It is good that we are able to get out in the Florida weather, but practice your precautions. Practice social distancing, mask up when you can’t do that, handwashing, and keep hands and fingers away from the eyes, nose, and mouth,” he continued.

The Manatee County Fairgrounds is located at 1402 14th Avenue W. in Palmetto. Admission is $6-$10 plus another $10 for parking. For more information, visit manateecountyfair.com.

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