Winston-Salem administrators are proposing to require the wearing of masks both indoors and outdoors at the Carolina Classic Fair, in a bid to come up with rules that a majority of the Winston-Salem City Council can back.
But City Manager Lee Garrity said Thursday that the fate of the proposal remains up in the air as the practical deadline looms for making the decision on whether to hold the fair at all.
“Monday is 10 days from the start of the fair,” Garrity said. “The realty is that we really need to decide on Monday.”
The fair runs Oct 1-10. Last year, because of the pandemic, the fair was canceled.
Members of the city council were badly divided on Tuesday as they discussed the fair during a meeting of the council’s general government committee.
Although local health leaders told council members that they believe the fair can take place safely amid the current surge in cases of COVID-19, some members voiced strong fears that the fair could cause the coronavirus to spread as fairgoers crowd the midway, and said overworked police officers didn’t need the extra stress of trying to manage fair crowds.
We might not have the Carolina Classic Fair this year, thanks to COVID and COVID enablers.
Garrity said Thursday that the plan to require masking both inside and outside is part of a move to address council concerns.
But that’s not the only part of the new plan: City police officers working the fair would be paid at overtime rates as a form of giving the officers premium pay.
“We talked to everyone on the council,” Garrity said. “We tried to come up with everything that would address their concerns.”
The city manager added, though, that opinions on the council may be in flux, and declined to count votes on the council.
Mayor Allen Joines said he thinks a “firm mask mandate outside and inside” would be a workable solution to holding a safe fair. He said most citizens he’s talked with favor going forward with the fair.
“With people moving around, not beside each other for two hours like at a football game, with a strong mask mandate it should be OK,” Joines said.
Joines said his own views were influenced heavily by listening to Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health, and Joshua Swift, the county’s health director.
Both told the city council’s general government committee that they felt the risks associated with holding the fair were lower than the benefit the community would get by being able to get out and enjoy the fair.
Council members Robert Clark, Kevin Mundy and Annette Scippio have voiced support for holding the fair, while members D.D. Adams and Jeff MacIntosh have said they are opposed. Other members either did not give an opinion during the meeting or could not be reached afterward.
Mundy noted that if he had his way, the fair would require people to show proof of vaccination, as a way of encouraging people to get vaccinated in order to resume life as normal.
As it stands, the fair plans to encourage people to show up on the less-attended days, with touch-free ticketing, sanitizing measures and other efforts planned to reduce risk of disease spread. As well, the fair operators will monitor crowd sizes and hold gates closed if the crowding is too much.
Officials say that most people who go to the fair attend with family members or people with whom they regularly associate. The fair’s largely outdoor setting, outdoor dining and the free movement of visitors also make the fair different from other events that draw large numbers together, city officials said.
Not holding the fair in 2020 left the fair with a net loss of $550,000, city officials said. The city lost $3 million in revenue, but cut expenses to limits its loss.
Garrity said the city does have an escape clause in its contract with Strates Shows, the midway operator, that allows for cancellation because of public safety concerns.
The city says that 2019 survey data showed that about 48,000 of the fair’s 300,000 visitors were 17 or under, with perhaps 24,000 visitors ages 6 to 11.