Wisconsin’s state fair, the largest single event in the state, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Fair Park Board chairman John Yingling decided to cancel the summer event that typically attracts more than 1 million people over 11 days. It’s the first cancellation of the State Fair since 1945, during World War II, and only the sixth cancellation in 169 years.
According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, it was also canceled in 1861, 1862 and 1863 during the Civil War and in 1893 when the World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago.
The state fair is the latest large event to fall victim to the health crisis as officials and businesses weigh the risks of holding mass events during a pandemic that continues to spread in Wisconsin.
Also on Thursday, organizers of Rhinelander’s Hodag Country Festival decided to cancel this summer’s event.
The Department of Health Services reported 512 new positive COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths on Thursday following Wednesday’s record-setting new case count of 599. DHS reported Thursday that 5% of the total number of people tested for COVID-19 were positive.
The State Fair Park Board voted earlier this week to give Yingling the authority to make the determination on his own of whether to cancel the fair.
After consultation with other authorities, Yingling opted for cancellation to preserve the safety of attendees and vendors.
“On behalf of the entire State Fair Park Board of Directors, please know that the decision to cancel the 2020 Wisconsin State Fair was not taken lightly,” Yingling said. “Months of deliberation took place, considering all options to host a Fair that adheres to the highest standard of safety without compromising the experience. We explored countless models, but ultimately safety cannot be compromised. The risks associated with hosting an event of this size and scope right now are just too great.”
Refunds are available for those who already purchased State Fair tickets, or those tickets can be used for 2021. Main stage concert tickets are also eligible for a refund, and will be automatically refunded for credit card purchases.
This year’s state fair was scheduled to take place Aug. 6-16 in West Allis.
The event comes just before the rescheduled Democratic National Convention, which is to take place Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee. The DNC has not yet said what its plans are for the event.
The cancellation of Wisconsin’s fair comes after neighboring Minnesota did the same. The fair in Illinois is still scheduled, although the state’s governor said it’s unlikely to happen. Iowa has yet to decide whether to move forward with its fair, and Michigan’s fair is still scheduled for early September.
Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said she appreciates the thoughtfulness of the difficult decision to close the fair, which has an economic impact of more than $200 million.
“Public safety must continue to be our top priority as a community, and I support the decision to cancel this year’s event in light of our current situation,” Williams-Smith said. “I will miss the Fair, but I look forward to next year’s event, which will no doubt be a fun and lively experience with delicious food, local vendors, great music, and of course, exciting family activities.”
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