Future of Fair & Frontier Days should hinge on public safety

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For many in this community, the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days isn’t just an event. It’s a festival to celebrate the Walla Walla Valley.

It’s a time for folks to stroll the midway and wander through barns as they catch up with friends and neighbors.

But the coronavirus pandemic could cause the cancellation, or significant reduction, in the 154th rendition of the annual Fair.

That has many people in the Walla Walla Valley upset, which has led to the lobbying of local officials to make certain the Fair goes on. But there are some who fear that the Fair is too large and could jeopardize the health and safety of the entire community.

The concerns of all have merit.

And that’s why it makes sense to focus on all aspects of the Fair in relation to COVID-19 before making a final decision.

The Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days Health & Safety Task Force as been formed to look at the issues. It is creating a “fluid” plan on how to hold the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days even if the county has not fully emerged from Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase “Safe Start” plan.

The plan was presented on Monday by Fair Board Secretary Shane Laib to the Walla Walla County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners and the task force members then discussed the report with the community in an online meeting Thursday.

The Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days is the oldest fair in the state, starting in 1866 — years before Washington was granted statehood in 1889. The seeds for the Fair were planted in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln was president and the nation was in the midst of the Civil War.

Whether it takes place, has emotional ramifications as well as financial implications.

Laib said he and the five other task force members looked to statistics from last year’s Fair to determine what might happen if the event is canceled. Financial losses could include: $65,500 to local nonprofits for contracted services; $644,000 to youth from their animal auctions; $275,000 from nonprofit food booths; and more than $1.2 million in county revenue from sponsorships, concessions and gate receipts.

“Ultimately, the gathering of a community, the Walla Walla Valley, would be lost for 2020, further escalating the mental and emotional stress with the whole process of dealing with COVID-19,” the plan stated.

That is certainly true.

Information from the report and community comments are now being considered, and a final decision on the Fair could come as early as Monday.

In the end, money and emotions are a consideration, but the health and safety of every person in this Valley must be at the core of the final determination. If a COVID-19 outbreak were to be triggered at the Fairgrounds it could quickly spread throughout the Valley and beyond.