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County fairs across the state expected to resume this summer

The Franklin County Fair, seen from the top of a ferris wheel in 2018, sprawls out across the Malone fairgrounds, with people, rides, games and food abundant. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

For a beloved New York summer tradition, it all comes down to state guidelines.

Planners of county fairs across the state are proposing socially distant and other creative safety protocols for local fairs to return this summer as the coronavirus pandemic winds down.

At a COVID-19 briefing in Buffalo on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said state Health Department guidelines for county fairs will be released within the week. How the local fairs will look — and what they’ll offer — will largely depend on rules municipal leaders are waiting for state executives in Albany to release.

“It’s not dragging your feet,” Cuomo said of the state’s delay in releasing additional guidelines for fairs.

At the end of April, the governor announced the New York State Fair in Syracuse will resume this summer at 50% capacity.

“It’s that the situation changes so quickly we want to open at the greatest capacity and at a capacity that makes it economic,” he said. “If you can’t bring in enough people, then the vendors don’t want to show up.”

Cuomo and the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force members continue to study and amend the state fair guidelines for smaller, county fairs next season.

The state economy has continued to reopen and increase capacity in businesses as New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreases from the peak of the virus surge.

The announcement came as plans remain touch-and-go for fairs statewide — the lack of state guidance being a key issue to proceed with large events.

Public safety issues and making a profit at a reduced capacity remain ongoing concerns.

“That has been a problem,” Cuomo said. “We could not say to the vendors we can get you ‘X’ percent capacity and the vendors have said to us if we can’t get ‘X’ percent we’re not coming. As our positivity rate has come down we have been increasing the capacity.”

Increasing capacity makes an attraction more economically viable, the governor added.

“That’s true in baseball, that’s true in music theaters, that’s true for Broadway,” Cuomo continued. “If you can’t increase the capacity to their economic threshold, it doesn’t work. Up until now for many venues we’ve been below the economic threshold they have said, ‘If I can only have 25% people I can’t open. I don’t have enough people to make it economically viable.'”

Given current COVID-19 positivity and death rates, Cuomo said, he believes the state can make opening economically viable for any venue, including fairs.

About 50% of eligible New Yorkers ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

The state’s vaccination rate will serve as another factor in how to resume local fairs.

“If I’m a stadium owner, or I’m an arena owner, or if I’m a county fair, I say, ‘Look, I can get more people if I increase the percentage of vaccinated,” Cuomo said.

If 100% of the people at a venue are vaccinated, it can operate at full capacity, he said, using a large sporting event as an example.

“Well, we only have 50% of the people vaccinated right now and you don’t want to say only vaccinated people go to the game, but as that vaccine number goes up and you have a larger vaccinated population you’re going to get closer and closer to 100 percent (capacity),” Cuomo said.

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