Skagit County Fair brings sense of ‘normalcy’ with precautions
The world may not be back to normal yet, but in the Skagit Valley, one beloved piece of summer is back — the Skagit County Fair.
After being canceled last year due to COVID, the four-day fest of animals, rides, entertainment, and a whole bunch of food is once again on in Mount Vernon.
Some fairs around the Puget Sound have been canceled this year, but fair organizers said that in the spring, as vaccinations were rising and Governor Inslee was opening the state back up, they felt OK going ahead this year.
And even with the recent rise in cases due to the delta variant, Skagit County Fair Manager Aric Gaither said he did not regret the decision to put on the fair because they have set out numerous precautions. Entertainment, booths, rides, and food stands are all outdoors, and within barns, organizers are asking people to put masks on. Signs on each barn remind people of the rules, with masks and hand sanitizer placed outside each entrance.
“We’ve tried to make it easy for people to kind of do the right thing and help out with that,” Gaither said, adding, “If you want to go in a barn — which, we want people to go in the barns because that’s where the kids are with their animals — it’s just a small [ask], it can be even a five-to-10-minute sacrifice [to wear a mask], if it is a sacrifice to you to do that.”
Tables are placed apart to encourage people to remain just with their own party, and those waiting in line for rides are asked to stand 6 feet away from each other.
Fair-goers who spoke with KIRO Radio said that they felt safe being among the crowds because of the protocols in place.
“I feel pretty safe — I try to wear a mask in the indoor exhibits,” said fair-goer Kazumi Bradley of Snohomish, adding, “I’m fully vaccinated, and so is everybody I came with.”
“You have to watch yourself, you have to distance yourself, you have to be careful,” said fair volunteer Don Wick of Mount Vernon, who said he has come to the fair every year since 1973. “But I feel safe, I’ve been vaccinated.”
Juggler Wren Schultz of Anacortes joked that walking around on stilts, he was easily able to keep from getting too close to anyone.
“I’m 6 feet above everybody, so I’ve got distance,” he laughed.
Gaither said alongside physical health, there is an important mental health side to the fair as well. After a year-and-a-half of quarantine and event cancelations, being able to come to Skagit County’s biggest summer tradition represents a sense of “normal” in the midst of all the uncertainty. As long as precautions can be taken, he finds it very important to give people that experience.
“Mental health I think is a big thing — this is mental health for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s a lot going on in the world right now, but normalcy is healthy for people, too.”
Attendees who spoke with KIRO Radio looked at the event as a long-awaited treat.
Sarah and Jesse Austin, who used to show 4-H animals at the fair themselves, brought their baby daughter Brookyln to the fair for the first time.
“We were bummed that last year was closed, so we’re glad to be back,” Sarah Austin said.
Wick joked that he got tired of “sitting at home and talking to [him]self” during COVID.
“It’s been a very difficult time period for all of us … and I think people are very, very enthused to be here,” Wick said.
And the fair is helping out in the COVID fight with a vaccine booth put on by Skagit County Public Health, open during all fair hours.
Vaccine Lead Bianca Ochoa said they vaccinated more than 30 people Wednesday and hope to do many more by the time the fair closes Saturday night. Most of the 30 doses were first doses, indicating that they are reaching new people.
With the stand located near the fair’s Latino stage, and with signs in Spanish as well as English, health workers are especially trying to increase vaccine equity in the Latino community, which has lagged behind in vaccinations. With doses being given during fair hours of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Ochoa said it will be helpful for Latino community members who can’t make it to other clinics due to work.
“Hours that a usual clinic is open, which is 8 or 9 to 4 or 5 — I mean, they get out at 7 o’clock, so doing mobiles at a later time has worked for us,” she said.
Those who get vaccinated at the fair can put their name in the ring to win one of three Xbox consoles, courtesy of the Boys and Girls Club of Skagit County.
“They’re meeting people where they’re at, so they’re meeting people at the county fair,” Gaither said. “We hope that the vaccinations continue so that we can try and get back to normal.”