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Hospital Association Says Going to Big Events Like the Washington State Fair Is a ‘Bad Idea’

Tacoma-Pierce County’s health department also says masks are required at the fair, indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status

A roller coaster on a cloudy day at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
The Washington State Fair in Puyallup was canceled in 2020 for the first time in 80 years, but plans to resume in September.

Those considering heading out to a large gathering may want to reconsider plans. That was the main message from the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) on Monday, August 30, during the group’s weekly briefing. Officials for the association addressed the continued rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations due to the highly contagious delta variant, expressing concern over certain public events. When discussing the upcoming state fair in Puyallup, scheduled to begin September 3 and run through September 26, WSHA president Cassie Sauer said frankly, “we think it’s a bad idea.”

The WSHA sounded the alarm over how delta continues to put a strain on the state’s health care system. Over the past week, there has been a sharp uptick in COVID hospitalizations across Washington, including more patients put on ventilators. Although COVID cases here in King County have flattened out somewhat over that same period, in neighboring Pierce County — where the state fair is held — the numbers spiked yet again over the past weekend.

“This is a very human-driven disease, and so the more people wear their masks, stay home, don’t go to the Puyallup fair and get vaccinated,” said Sauer. “Those are things that will help mute the surge, for sure.”

Taking such factors into consideration, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department issued a mandate Tuesday requiring masks be worn at all times at the fair both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Last year, the Washington State Fair — which dates back to the early 20th century and draws more than a million visitors — was canceled for the first time since World War II, dealing a blow to the local economy and the thousands of workers hired to run the event each year, including many food and drink vendors. In June 2021, organizers decided to bring the fair back once Gov. Jay Inslee announced that most COVID-related restrictions would be lifted this summer.

While outdoor settings are generally considered safer than indoor venues, state officials urge caution for people attending major events, no matter where they’re held. More than 200 COVID cases were tied to the Watershed country music festival at the Gorge Amphitheater earlier this month, prompting the state health department to issue a recommendation for all Washingtonians, whether vaccinated or not, to “avoid any large outdoor gatherings like concerts, fairs or festivals.” Five major Washington fairs have already been cancelled this summer, including in Thurston, Jefferson, Clark and Clallam counties, while the Southeast Spokane County Fair scheduled for September 18 and 19 was called off as well.

Even with the new warnings from health authorities, though, it appears the Washington State Fair won’t alter its plans for opening. “We understand the concern of some, on the Fair being held,” Stacy Van Horne, spokesperson for the WA State Fair, told local news outlet Q13. “We will continue to put safety and health first, as we’ve always done.”

Official fair COVID guidelines do not include requiring proof of vaccination for entry. But the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department issued its new mask mandate for the fair, which is a touch stricter than the state order. Masks will be provided at the fair for those who don’t have one.