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Orange County Fair canceled amid the coronavirus crisis

Issaiah Reynoso, of Santa Ana, tries to beat the heat in the splash pad during the 2019 Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa. The 2020 fair has been canceled.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County Fair enthusiasts will have to wait until next year to enjoy cuddly baby farm animals, dizzying carnival rides and outrageous fried foods.

The OC Fair & Event Center board of directors on Monday voted unanimously to cancel this year’s event, which was scheduled to run July 17 through Aug. 16, over concerns that large crowds could create unsafe conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Nearly 1.4 million people visited last year’s summer festival — an annual event that’s equal parts community celebration, carnival and homage to California’s deeply rooted agricultural history. Board members said large numbers of people flocking to the Costa Mesa locale would make social distancing nearly impossible. They also raised concerns that the state could see a resurgence of the virus from events bringing people together too soon.

“At the end of the day, our number one priority is the safety of the public and everyone who enters the fairground,” director Robert Ruiz said. “It breaks my heart, but at the end of the day ... we don’t know what this is going to look like two months from now, six months from now. As much as it hurts, it’s the right decision and it’s the responsible thing to do.”

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County Fairs from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay area have been canceled, and large music festivals have been postponed over the coronavirus.

During a phone call with fair staff prior to Monday’s meeting, Orange County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick advised officials that it would be prudent to consider canceling the event. She emphasized, as she has in the past, that mass gathering regulations will probably be in place for many months.

The Orange County Fair was canceled between 1942 and 1947 during World War II, but otherwise has been a summer staple for the region since 1890.

Staff is continuing to look into moving some events online, such as the craft competitions and the youth livestock auction.

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“We are going to do everything we can to keep the spirit of the fair alive,” director Ashleigh Aitken said.

Orange County isn’t the only region where events have been upended by the pandemic. County fairs across California have been canceled, postponed or downsized amid statewide social distancing mandates.

Fairs in San Mateo, San Diego, San Bernardino and Calaveras counties have already been slashed from the calendar as state officials continue to warn the public not to expect large-scale gatherings anytime soon.

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Absent a vaccine, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that Californians should expect to continue to wear face coverings or masks, and to visit restaurants with fewer tables, disposable menus and waiters wearing masks and gloves when the state slowly transitions back to normal.

“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Newsom said earlier this month.

Meanwhile, fairs in El Dorado County and Ventura County are continuing as scheduled. The Los Angeles County Fair, scheduled to run Sept. 4 through Sept. 27, is also expected to go forward as planned, according to event organizers.

Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.


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