Scientific Model Shows State Fairs Can Occur at Full Capacity With No COVID Risk

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June 5, 2021

As some Democratic governors hold firm on capacity restrictions for outdoor events, a new model shows that state and county fairs can safely occur this summer at full capacity without mask mandates.

According to models created by simulation technology company Epistemix, outdoor fairs operating at full capacity would cause zero increase in the spread of coronavirus if the local population has at least 70 percent immunity. With many states on pace to reach the 70 percent benchmark within months, fairgoers should be set to safely enjoy events without restrictions by mid-summer, the company found.

A rollback of coronavirus restrictions would come as a major boost to the community organizations and small businesses that rely on fairs as a crucial source of revenue. In New York, for example, removing capacity restrictions would allow an additional 50,000 people to flock to the state fairgrounds. Fairs contribute roughly $4.7 billion to the national economy each year—revenue that local businesses lost out on in 2020.

Officials in New York, however, have announced that restrictions will remain in place. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state's fair will be held in August at just 50 percent capacity. County and local fairs are also required to limit attendees to maintain social distancing. In Washington, meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee is allowing no more than 9,000 attendees at special outdoor events, forcing multiple counties to impose capacity limits on fairs scheduled for late August.

International Association of Fairs and Expositions president Marla Calico said she hopes the model will convince state and local officials to rescind capacity limits and help fair organizers survive after last year's cancellations. The hesitancy of state officials to follow the science presented by Epistemix puts fair organizers in a difficult position, she says.

"A fair is going to have to make a decision ahead of time—at that capacity, can we actually go ahead and be profitable in our mission?" Calico said. "They still have to pay the bills, they still have to come away with funds to live to go another year, and that timeframe is narrowing very, very quickly for many of our fairs."

Epistemix's model simulated fairs in Iowa, Washington, and upstate New York using immunity forecasts on all counties within a 100-mile radius of the event in question. The New York model, of an 11-day fair in Erie County with 100,000 daily attendees, found that in a majority of scenarios there would be little to no spread of the coronavirus, even with no mitigation efforts such as social distancing, masking, or virus tests.

The company has modeled similar large events in Florida with up to 98 percent accuracy.