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Grant County Fair draws large crowds despite COVID-19 wave

Visitors said they felt safe given the event was outdoors.

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — The Grant County Fair opened Tuesday, attracting thousands longing to come out to a public fun event after last year's fair was canceled because of coronavirus.

Large gatherings have drawn increased scrutiny in recent weeks as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has caused spikes in cases and hospitalizations across the country.

The Watershed country music festival a few weeks ago has been tied to more than 160 cases of COVID that spread across a dozen counties; more than 20 thousand people attended that event.

In Grant County, where fewer than half of eligible people are fully vaccinated, the health district is monitoring the fair closely.

Organizers are expecting 30 to 40 percent higher attendance than normal because of high demand for activities now that restrictions are lifted. On opening day Tuesday, attendance was free, and the fairgrounds director estimated more than 10 thousand people came out.

The fair recommended masks while indoors, but did not require them or vaccines. Extra sanitizing and handwashing stations were also established. Between 4 and 8 p.m. the health district is running a vaccine clinic.

"We're doing a lot of things to try to make it not a super-spreader. And we also put out on our Facebook page: hey look, if you're nervous about large crowds, then don't come to fair. We totally understand. We hope to see you next year. But I think the ball was rolling to the point where I think it would be difficult to shut it down now," said Grant County Fairgrounds Director Jim McKiernan. "Most of the areas where people are congregating are outside. There's plenty of room to socially distance if you decide you want to do that."

McKiernan said that if the state were to change course and mandate mask use in large group settings, the fair would be prepared to accommodate the order at least with proper signage, but would likely not have available staff to enforce it.