Attending the Iowa State Fair is a memorable tradition for most Iowans and visitors.
For an immigrant like me, it was an exciting introduction to my new home when I arrived 21 years ago. Everything about the fair during that first visit was mind-blowing; a cultural lesson to say the least.
I was in awe of the huge crowds, urban and rural communities sharing the same space, eating, enjoying entertainment, or simply “people watching.”
One thing became clear to me: The fair is important to most Iowans and out-of-state visitors alike.
“I generally go about five times a year,” Dan Ketchum, a retired Des Moines Public School teacher, told me. “I enjoy running into people from home in Northern Iowa, teachers I worked with at DMPS, and former students. Coming from a farm background, I also enjoy both the baby and adult farm animals.”
In 2020 the fair became another casualty of COVID-19 closures as its board made the difficult decision to not hold the awaited event. The news was devastating to die-hard regular attendees and for vendors who count on this as a great part of their yearly revenue.
However, safety and fear of the unknown were top concerns. In August of last year, the fair would have most certainly become a super-spreader event for COVID-19.
This year the fair is on and there is great enthusiasm about it as businesses and other venues have reopened, however, less than 50 percent of Iowans are vaccinated—not enough to provide herd immunity—and the Delta variant of the virus continues to spread.
“This year with the pandemic, I still intend to go,” Ketchum said. “I will take my mask and just use it in more crowded conditions.”
Ketchum wasn’t the only person I spoke to who was willing to take a risk to enjoy the fair.
“Although there is a surge with Delta variant, I plan on going to the fair to help those impacted last year,” said Chris Gonzalez of Des Moines. “I will wear my mask, keep social distancing, attend on days and hours that are not as busy, wash my hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. I will stay out of the indoor buildings. I am fully vaccinated.”
Others were being a little more cautious, such as Bex Velazquez-Streeper of Des Moines.
“My family consists of five people, three of which are vaccinated, and two who are under the vaccination age,” she said. “I try to wear a mask because I don’t want to infect my two kiddos who are not vaccinated; the Iowa State Fair will be a super-spreader event. I would suspect that we will see numbers leap in the seven to 14 days post fair.”
Adriana Hernandez of Des Moines said she wasn’t planning to attend this year and admitted even under normal circumstances she is not a big fan of going to the fair, but she did consider going.
“I have been craving crowds and any sign of ‘normalcy’ that can trick my mind into thinking that the madness of these 16 months is over,” she said.
What’s holding Hernandez back is Iowa’s low vaccination rates, which she said hinders us all from bouncing back.
“The increasing numbers of positive tests—mostly on unvaccinated people—prove that the unvaccinated population is actively threatening the well-being of our community,” she said. “So, I will not risk myself and my family by being part of a crowd that has proven to be driven by politics instead of science.”
For an expert’s perspective, I contacted Dr. Rossana Rosa. She’s an infectious disease specialist and former UnityPoint Health staffer and a leader on the topic who recently relocated from Iowa to Miami, Florida.
“The Delta variant is a game-changer. It certainly appears to be more transmissible and perhaps even cause more severe disease,” she said. “The good news is vaccines work very well against it.
“Going to crowded events like the state fair poses a risk, and I would advise against it for immunocompromised individuals. For those who decide to venture out, please wear a mask, keep it outdoors, and distance as much possible.”
By Claudia Thrane