After its cancellation due to COVID-19 last year, the East Texas State Fair is back with activities in full swing. Though active COVID-19 cases are almost double what they were ast year around this time, there are plenty of protective measures the public can take to avoid contracting the virus while enjoying Tyler’s first of many fall festivities.
Get vaccinated before attending
UT Health East Texas Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Cummins first recommends getting fully vaccinated before attending the East Texas State Fair, or at least getting a first dose of the vaccine for additional protection.
Wear a mask and practice social distancing
For those who will not be receiving a dose of the vaccine to protect against COVID-19, Cummins recommends wearing a mask.
“Wear a mask, at all times. Because even though it’s outdoors, we’re talking about big crowds, sometimes some of those crowds within smaller areas, smaller spaces, not well ventilated like bars, etcetera,” he said.
It is also recommended to practice social distancing while in line waiting for food or rides.
“The mask and keeping your distance will be the safest things for COVID,” Cummins said.
Though outdoors, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still high
The Northeast Texas Public Health District has reported for several weeks now that community spread levels of the virus are at substantial levels. This means there is a large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission within the county, including at congregate settings, such as schools, workplaces, nursing homes and daycares. With the fair hosting senior day and UT Tyler day along with live music, shows and auctions, the risk of contracting the virus remains high though located outside.
“It’s a little safer because it’s outside, but again, we have seen events where people are outside spreading the disease. Because if you come into close contact with somebody in a crowd, even though it’s outdoors, you run the risk of contracting COVID,” Cummins said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the higher the level of community transmission at traveling amusement parks and carnivals, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during park operations.
Other factors that contribute to a higher risk level of COVID-19 spread at amusement parks and carnivals include
- Park operations open to full capacity with no modifications to allow for social distancing
- No masks being worn
- Rides not being modified to allow for social distancing
- Games that require a host and allow multiple players at the same time without a limitation on the number of players
- Multiple frequently touched surfaces and shared objects once per day
How the virus spreads on fairgrounds
Though data is still being gathered on how the COVID-19 virus is spread, Cummins said it’s spread mostly through respiratory contact. According to CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread by food. However, people sharing utensils and congregating around food service areas can pose a risk for transmission of the virus.
“COVID is spread mostly by respiratory contact, so breathing infected particles in the air from other people who have been infected,” he said.
According to the CDC, the more and longer people interact, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with and spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Cummins advises that with the delta variant, “You don’t have to be around somebody very long because it’s much more contagious.”
“There isn’t evidence that a huge amount of risk or spread of the disease is from touching objects usually,” Cummins said.
“The key is that both the person paying and the person accepting payment be masked and that people keep their distance while they’re waiting in line to get their food is something more important.”
Know the signs of COVID-19 and stay home if you have any
If someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19, it is recommended to stay home to avoid infecting other people. Some common symptoms of the virus include
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle or body aches
- loss of taste and smell among others
“Other viruses and other illnesses can be spread by touching surfaces and then touching your mouth, so common colds, stomach viruses, things that cause vomiting and diarrhea. We’re entering into flu season, flu can be spread that way,” Cummins said.
Wash your hands regularly
“Clean your hands regularly after touching various objects at the fair,” Cummins said.
Through a partnership with UT Health East Texas, the fair is providing numerous hand-sanitizing and hand-washing stations on the fairgrounds to help prevent the spread of the disease while the fair is going on.
“We don’t recommend touching substances and then touching your mouth, so if you go to the bathroom, wash your hands before you leave. If you put your hands on a doorknob, some of the games where you’re throwing balls, etcetera, don’t put your hands in your mouth. Sanitize or wash your hands afterward,” he said.
Carpool with other vaccinated people
Though carpooling was encouraged to reduce the amount of traffic flow on W. Front street, being in a car, Cummins said, puts you in a contained space.
“If you know everybody in the car has been vaccinated, it’s probably relatively safe, but if you don’t know for sure if everybody isn’t, then everybody should mask up even in the carpool.”
You can get vaccinated at the fair
In a partnership with Brookshire’s Grocery Co., Christus is hosting a vaccination clinic at the fair, offering the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccine, as well as booster shots of Pfizer for those who qualify for it.
Vaccinations will be available until Sunday, the last day of the fair, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The East Texas State Fair is estimated to economically impact the city of Tyler and Smith County, bringing in about $9.8 million each year. Over 250,000 visitors come to the fair each year including local families, concert goers, exhibitors, vendors, contest participants, school groups, entertainers, workers, sponsors, volunteers, and livestock exhibitors travel annually from as far as New Mexico, Kansas, Tennessee, and more. The visitors fill up local hotels, restaurants and shops.