Worries Over COVID-19 Surge Lead to Increased Safety Protocols at Washington State Fair


Masks will be required indoors and outdoors at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup to prevent the spread of COVID-19, public health officials said Tuesday.

The fair starts Friday and ends Sept. 26. It brings an additional million people to Puyallup each year.

"As a condition of opening, Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, Director of Health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, will issue a health order that requires masks be worn at all times at the Fair, indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status," a news release said. "With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at an all-time high in Pierce County, this will help prevent and limit the spread of the virus."

Chen, State Fair CEO Kent Hojem, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Puyallup Mayor Julie Door and Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Olson put out the joint statement and held a press conference.

"Pierce County's local healthcare systems are at a critical stage right now and do not have capacity for an influx of patients," the statement said. "We are supporting coordination among healthcare and service partners to provide additional personnel on-site throughout the event to help alleviate that stress."

Chen said during the press conference that the health department will "keep a close eye" on the fair and if necessary, it might take additional steps to ask the fair to close. Last year was the first time the fair had been canceled since World War II.

The decision to require masks indoors and outdoors, among other safety precautions, is a joint effort between the city and the county to lessen the spread of COVID-19, he said.

"The cases of COVID-19 are really at unprecedented levels," Chen said. "We are concerned that we can get surges of cases after large events."

Door said it was challenging to balance the social, cultural and economic benefits of the fair with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

"Please comply with Dr. Chen's orders," Door said. "These are challenging times, and we realize that not everybody is going to like those orders, but this is what we need to do to keep our community safe."

The fair will have masks available and will not ask guests for proof of vaccination.

Hojem said there will be 10 teams of security personnel roaming the fairgrounds to ensure all attendees are wearing masks at all times. Signs around the fair will remind people to keep their masks on.

"This is not an option," Hojem said.

Previously the fair said masks would be required indoors, in line with Gov. Jay Inslee's mandate.

The update that masks would also be required outdoors at the fair came a day after a Washington State Hospital Association briefing. During that briefing, health officials said there are 1,570 patients hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 and called mass events such as the State Fair a "bad idea."

MultiCare runs Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, which has about 100 COVID-19 patients.

"The hospital is full," Dr. David Carlson, senior vice president, provider enterprise and chief physician officer for Tacoma-based MultiCare, said at the briefing.

Hojem said Tuesday there will be an "enhanced medical services" area at the fair to treat attendees who have minor accidents to help reduce the need to transport people from the fair to the hospital.

Among other precautions, the fair said it would test employees for COVID prior to and during the event, and would offer testing for the public. The fair also plans to have vaccines available at the fairgrounds.

Chen said the health department would monitor rates for positive COVID-19 cases among fair employees on a regular basis. The department's objective is to prevent staff from possibly exposing attendees to COVID-19, he said.

"We will be monitoring this carefully," Chen said.

The fair will cut the number of rides by 10 percent to allow more room for social distancing, and it will cut vendors by 25 percent and have dividers between set-ups in the Mattress Firm ShowPlex.

There will be changes to "processes behind the scenes to reduce group gatherings," and there will be additional handwashing and sanitation stations throughout the fair, the news release said.

Olson said the city and county are taking a lot of safety precautions to make the fair happen this year. Attendees can anticipate having "the best care at the fair," he said.

Dammeier said, "If a family is nervous, they probably shouldn't come to the fair."

The fair is the livelihood of many people in the community, Dammeier said. The added safety precautions would allow people to attend, reduce the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccination rates in the county and lessen the impact on Good Samaritan Hospital, he said.

"The Fair is an important part of life and vitality in Western Washington," the joint statement said. "This community gathering helps build economic and social resilience among Pierce County residents and has been a part of our community for more than 120 years. These agencies worked together to develop additional safety measures to ensure that tradition continues."