DES MOINES --- Early indications are the Iowa State Fair is headed for a full rebound after last year’s rare cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cancellation of the 2020 Iowa State Fair was just the fifth in its 165-year history, and the first since World War II.
A State Fair official said ticket sales for general admission and grandstand events are selling well for this year’s event, which starts Thursday and runs through Aug. 22, and that campgrounds near the fairgrounds are full.
“Those are all good indicators that we are looking for a very strong fair,” said Mindy Williamson, marketing director for the Iowa State Fair. “Cross your fingers: we’re hoping for the best and also trying to be as flexible and prepared as we can be. We all know 2020 taught us flexibility.”
More than 1.1 million people attended the Iowa State Fair in 2018 and 2019.
Overall, new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down from where they were a year ago. However, the virus is still prevalent in Iowa --- and actually resurging, with the Delta variant leading to a gradual increase in new cases over the past two months, according to the most recent state public health data available.
The State Fair is operating under guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Williamson said. She said face masks are recommended indoors, but not required. A limited number of face masks will be available for fairgoers.
An effort was made to spread out the fairgrounds as much as possible, Williamson said. And the fairgrounds will be flush with hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations, and the janitorial staff has been boosted in an effort to increase periodic cleanings.
“We’re being as flexible as we possibly can because health and safety is our utmost priority here,” Williamson said.
A free vaccination clinic will be available throughout the fair for anyone who has not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone wishing to receive the vaccine may do so at the clinic hosted by Hy-Vee near Gate 11 south of Grand Avenue. The clinic will be open every day of the fair.
“Any time we see people coming together who are not vaccinated, we know the situation is ripe for the Delta variant to spread,” Polk County public health spokeswoman Nola Aigner said recently.
Williamson said last year’s cancellation presented a budgeting challenge for the State Fair, which she said gets 90% of its annual income from the 11-day event. She said the fair made budget adjustments for this year’s event, but none that should be obvious to fairgoers or impact their fair experience.
“We were very careful and thoughtful in our budgeting to be able to make the traditional things still happen this year,” she said.
“We are so excited,” she added. “With such a year of uncertainty, this has been our goal all along, to get to this Aug. 12 date, open the fair, and maybe bring things a little back to normal.”
Williamson said she encourages fairgoers who have not yet purchased a general admission ticket to do so online in advance, which she said will save them both time — by not having to wait in a line — and money, since advance tickets are $5 cheaper. General admission tickets can be purchased online at iowastatefair.org through Wednesday evening.