Ohio county fair tied to 22 coronavirus cases, with more fairs still to come

A nine-page report from Pickaway County Public Health found safety guidelines were not enforced despite a “very thorough and extensive” planning process.
Image: Coronavirus testing, Ohio
Ohio National Guard's PFC. Kamaria Johnson, left, waits for a specimen from PFC. Victor Litteral during a COVID-19 drive-thru testing event at East Knox High School in Howard, Ohio on July 20, 2020.Joshua Morrison / Mount Vernon News via AP

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By Doha Madani

At least 22 cases of coronavirus were tied to an Ohio county fair at the end of last month, a cautionary tale as more county fairs are scheduled to continue amid the pandemic.

A nine-page report from Pickaway County Public Health found a lack of enforcement on safety measures to prevent the disease despite a “very thorough and extensive” planning process on guidelines. At least 19 attendees contracted the virus and another three had the virus passed onto them by a family member.

Officials are also looking into the death of someone who attended the fair, but an investigation into how the individual contracted the disease is ongoing, the report said.

“The Fair Board had great plans to ensure safety, but the safety measures were not implemented in a way that was effective,” the report stated.

A spokeswoman with the county health department confirmed to NBC News Thursday that health staff members saw violations themselves.

Food vendors and other staff were seen without masks, staff members at each entrance were not using sanitizer between guests, and bleacher seating encouraged at the event had attendees seated too close together, the report found. The health department said it handled complaints from concerned individuals during the fair and after.

“The 2020 Pickaway County Fair provided the Pickaway County Health Department with real-world experience working through difficult issues and developing the skills to properly allow for major events during a pandemic situation,” the report said.

The Pickaway County Fair ran from June 20 to 27, run by the Pickaway County Agricultural Society. The fair board did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment from NBC News.

Von Cremeans, the president of the Pickaway County Agricultural Society, told the Columbus Dispatch he did not know “how they can trace it back to the fair,” unless those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 “lived in a bubble.”

Creameans told the Dispatch that the board is scheduled to meet with the public health officials to discuss their concerns from the report at a special meeting on Monday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a tweet Wednesday that officials were seeing fairs breaking reopening rules and that one fair was connected to 19 cases. A spokesman from DeWine’s office confirmed to NBC News that the governor was referring to the Pickaway County Fair.

“We want fairs to continue, but I spoke with county fair managers today and expressed that they must follow the rules,” DeWine tweeted.

The Butler County Fair is scheduled to begin Saturday and the Hamilton County Fair is slated to begin on August 13, both in Ohio. The president of the Butler County Fair Board did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.