State Fair's Lack of Masking, Vaccine Requirements Draws Criticism

18August 2021

While the return of the State Fair may signal a return to normalcy for some, the fair’s current guidance involving COVID-19 safety measures remains a point of contention for those concerned with rising case levels and the highly infectious Delta variant. 

As the Great Minnesota Get-Together nears and COVID-19 cases soar across the state, the Minnesota Council on Disability remained clear on its decision to not attend this year’s State Fair. Citing the lack of a mask mandate, crowd limits, and vaccine requirements as a few reasons for abstaining from fair festivities, the MCD wrote an open letter to local government and fair leadership detailing their concerns with the fair, that can bring in more than 2 million visitors within its twelve days of operation. 

By attending the fair in its current state—without a mask mandate, proof of vaccination or negative COVID test requirement, or capacity limits—the MCD said the fair would be reinforcing “the message to society that the lives of people with disabilities are less important.”

“People with disabilities are rarely at the front of social conversations about right and wrong, equality and rights. This lack of action continues the trend of de-prioritizing marginalized communities,” the letter reads. “These policies, or lack of policies, appear to be overlooking Minnesotans with disabilities and other marginalized communities, making people’s health a secondary priority.”

E. David Dively, executive director of the MCD, said that the majority of MCD’s employees and council members are folks with disabilities. “We don’t want to put ourselves at risk, let alone the communities that we serve,” Dively says. 

State Fair officials said in a statement released on Wednesday that mandating masks at the fair would be “extremely difficult” to enforce, considering that the mostly outdoor event includes lots of eating and drinking. Instead of a mandate the State Fair is encouraging fairgoers to do their due diligence by wearing a mask, getting vaccinated beforehand, and attending the fair on slower days when attendance is lower. 

The State Fair’s general manager Jerry Hammer told Racket that a mandate would take hundreds of employees to enforce, “and we’re having enough of a challenge to find people for the fun jobs.” While Dively understands the labor issue, he pointed out that if the State Fair designed the event with everyone in mind—not just able-bodied folks—they may not have the same labor issues that they’re seeing because more folks could feel safe enough to work at the fair. “Maybe the issues are connected,” Dively says. 

MCD has been a longtime attendee of the fair. As one of the biggest events it orchestrates during the year, their fair presence is a primary way of reaching and interacting with the public. 

“We should be, as a society, creating systems, areas, places, events, where everyone is welcome and has equal access. And in this case I think we’re clearly not doing that,” Dively says. “I love the State Fair… so this is personally challenging for me, but I think it’s an important message because, whether it’s creating laws about education, county or city ordinances, rules and federal laws, people with disabilities are not the person they have in mind when they design these things. It’s typically an able-bodied person that doesn’t have a disability, that we design our policies around. And this is just one example of that happening again.”

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