As Town & Country Fair approaches,
pandemic regional task force urges masking
As the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state of Missouri reaches an average of more than 1,200 confirmed cases per day, according to the state department of Health and Senior Services, the Washington Town & Country Fair is fast approaching.
A fair organizer reported no contingency plan was currently in place to require fairgoers to mask up, and there was no indication from area authorities that one was needed.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the county continues to urge people to get vaccinated and ensure vaccines are available for those who wish to do so, but that there would be no mask policy for the fair.
“We’re not doing that,” Brinker said. “If people make the decision to attend the event, that’s their decision. People in Franklin County have been pretty doggone conscientious, and I’m proud of them. We want to continue to set an example for the rest of the state.”
Mercy Hospital Washington officials urged people to be “as careful as possible” when attending the fair.
“This fair is a wonderful thing for our community and for our children. It raises a tremendous amount of money, and I love taking my kids there,” said Dr. Ann-Elizabeth Mohart, chief medical officer at the hospital. “(Mercy) wants it to be a success. We are just concerned about the timing. We know the delta variant is spreading in our community, and our projections show we will start to see an increase in cases in August.”
Although those still unvaccinated will not be able to get fully vaccinated in time for the fair, which starts Aug. 4, Mohart stressed the importance of people wearing masks, social distancing and sanitizing their hands as much as is possible during the fair. She said someone with the delta variant of COVID-19 is likely to infect, on average, between five and seven other people, often before the original person shows any symptoms. Although they are less likely to become severely ill, vaccinated people also can spread the virus to others.
In Franklin County, 60 percent of people are unvaccinated, down from 70 percent in early May. Free COVID-19 vaccines have been available to all Missourians ages 16 and up since April 9 and to children between the ages of 12 and 15 since May 12.
Mohart said while Mercy supports the fair and will staff a first-aid booth as in years past, staff also doesn’t want the fair to be “a perfect storm” of low vaccination rates and crowds of people, similar to what southwest Missouri is experiencing. That region leads the U.S. in the rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita, and several hospitals there have sent COVID-19 patients elsewhere to receive care because ICUs are full.
“I don’t want to set off a panic, but I do want people to be very aware of the reality we’re dealing with so we can hopefully prevent people from getting really sick,” Mohart said.
In an email Tuesday morning, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force urged everyone in the region, including those who have been vaccinated, to wear a mask when in public spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses.
“I know this doesn’t seem fair,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, acting head of the task force. “The CDC has approved removing masks among vaccinated individuals. But our community doesn’t have enough vaccinated individuals to safely implement these recommendations in the face of the influx of the delta variant. The safest thing for our community and the most effective way to get back on track is to wear masks and get vaccinated.”
According to City of Washington Emergency Management Director Mark Skornia, 79 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Franklin County last week, 14 of which resided within the 63090 ZIP code.
“At this point, we’re continuing to monitor,” Skornia said. “We’re strongly recommending that people get vaccinated and follow their own personal comfort on masking.”
In addition to confirmed cases, the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services reports an average of another 500 probable cases of COVID per day.