CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State Fair 2020 canceled due to coronavirus

People ride the Sky Glider on Aug, 12, 2018, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
People ride the Sky Glider on Aug, 12, 2018, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
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Farewell to the funnel cakes, bye-bye to the butter cow and toodle-oo to the Tilt A Whirl.

For the first time in 75 years, the Iowa State Fair will stay silent this summer. A world war last routed it in the 1940s. But this time it is an invisible enemy — the novel coronavirus.

“While the decision of the Iowa State Fair Board today will certainly come as a disappointment to many, the board determined that holding a fair in accordance with current health guidelines related to COVID-19 wasn’t feasible,” Gary Slater, the state fair manager and chief executive officer, said in a statement Wednesday after the board voted 11-2 in a secret ballot.

By the time the board met, 629 Iowans had died because of the virus and 22,516 were sickened by it in just three months.

Iowa now joins Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana in calling off their state fairs, though Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas are among the states vowing to hold theirs in some fashion.

The cancellation joins a list of other Iowa traditions that also are off in this lost summer — including many Fourth of July fireworks shows and the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

More than 1 million people typically visit the Iowa State Fair in its 11-day run, which was scheduled for Aug. 13-23.

But, Slater said, the board’s decision was influenced by surveys that indicated the likelihood of much smaller crowds if the fair went ahead.

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While to many of those who go annually the fair means fried anything on a stick and a view from the Ferris wheel, the fair actually is big business.

It estimates its economic impact at $100 million over those 11 days — money that this year visitors will not pump into the Des Moines area’s economy.

The fair is, though, looking at alternatives to keep alive this summer one of its hallmarks — livestock shows.

“We are looking at other possibilities to provide an opportunity for 4-H and FFA exhibitors to showcase their livestock projects,” the fair said in a statement.

While the fair said it would begin a process of refunding those who already bought admissions or grandstand tickets for this August, it quickly announced it would return Aug. 12-22, 2021.

For Rodney Zeitler, who has entered canned produce at the fair since the early 2000s, that might be for the best.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics internist said he’ll be able to relax for the two weeks he usually takes off for the fair and lay off the canning for a while.

“From a medical standpoint, I think that’s probably the best choice ...” Dr. Zeitler said. “Logistically I just could not wrap my head around how they could make it work.”

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Zeitler said he had finished entries for about 100 of the about 170 categories this year, and had been excited about the fair offering extra monetary prizes from sponsors.

He began working on entries after last year’s fair, as the rules state that entries must have been canned after the previous fair. Whether that rule will change due to the cancellation remains to be seen.

The extra canned produce he makes will be put to good use, he said, either through gifts to friends, donations to raffles and other contests — or kept for himself.

“I will look forward to a year from now,” he said.

Among Iowans saddened by the board’s decision are U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and his wife, Barbara, who have attended the fair every year since 1974.

“I sure would miss the Iowa State Fair,” Grassley told reporters Wednesday before the board’s decision.

“I know so many Iowans love it, not just the Grassleys,” he said, adding he’s heard Barbara say “maybe more than three or four times in the last month” that she wants to go to the fair that began in Fairfield in 1854 as a three-day celebration.

Brooklyn Draisey and James Q, Lynch of The Gazette, and reporting from the Associated Press, contributed.

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