The San Mateo County Fair will return to the Event Center after a year of the grounds serving as a vital site for responding to COVID-19 related needs.
“The fair is the heart and soul of who we are,” said Dana Stoehr, CEO of the San Mateo County Event Center. “We’re very proud of being able to be there for the community at this time of crisis but at the heart of it we’re about celebration.”
Traditional fan favorite attractions will all be featured at the fair, said Stoehr, including carnival rides, outdoor entertainment and live music, food booths and the 4-H livestock show. The event will be one of the first large public events in the state since the start of the pandemic, Stoehr noted.
The in-person fair will open from Saturday, June 5, to Sunday, June 13, but will close on Monday, June 7, and Tuesday, June 8. The schedule will offer a COVID-safe space for livestock show participants on the two closed days, said Stoehr.
Thrilled for the event, Zeva Cho, the San Mateo San Francisco Counties 4-H Youth Development Program coordinator, said in an email statement the organization has worked closely with the fair’s planning committee to ensure the event is safe for all.
She estimates about 65 of the program’s 260 youth members will enter the fair.
“Our youth members are excited to exhibit their animals and creative works at the fair this year,” said Cho. “The in-person county fair will allow our youth the opportunity to demonstrate and showcase what they have learned in their projects: animal, sewing, photography, food and more.”
Planning began last March when staff believed the county would be hosting the 2020 county fair, said Stoehr, but the pandemic shuttered businesses and put an end to all large gatherings for much of last year. The only other time the county fair has been canceled was during World War II, she said.
As an Office of Emergency Services site, Stoehr said the event center has served as a mass testing site, the location of numerous drive-thru and walk-up vaccine clinics and as a temporary 250-bed overflow hospital.
“We are proud that the San Mateo County Event Center has been here for our community during this time of crisis,” Justin Aquino, fair operations manager, said in a press release. “We are now overjoyed that we can be here for you in the return of celebration.”
A year after the start of the pandemic, the county is now steadily moving through the state’s color-coded reopening system, allowing it to greatly expand business operations. Currently in the orange tier, meaning a moderate risk of spreading the virus, family entertainment can open with a capacity of 25%.
Stoehr said the staff is ready to scale up or down as much as allowed by the state. San Mateo County is now meeting criteria for the yellow, least restrictive tier which would expand capacity to 50%. The state has also teased a potential green tier which would include even fewer restrictions.
Despite the reopening excitement, County Health officials have warned of an additional surge in COVID-19 cases in the spring. Addressing the concerns, Stoehr said a fair can be scaled down to a drive-thru event if necessary.
“All of this is on the back burner,” said Stoehr. “If we need to make it a drive-thru just for the kids we can pull back and do that if we have to. That’s plan C.”
Rides would likely be replaced by light shows but Stoehr said many other features, including food stands, the livestock show and musical events, can be modified to still offer a similar fair experience.
David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said the return of the fair signals the county is successfully overcoming the virus. Excitedly announcing “corn dogs for everyone,” he said he plans to attend the event with his family.
“Of course, I imagine there will be plenty of modifications to keep everyone safe but I know the leadership there, Dana and her staff, will do all they can to bring back the fun,” said Canepa. “I’m excited because the fair is about wholesome family fun and we need that right now.”
Ticket sales will be all online and touchless digital tickets will be scanned at the door. Fairgoers will be required to wear a mask at all times, aside from when eating or drinking. State guidelines also prohibit ticket sales to out-of-state visitors.
Inside the grounds, a large crew will ensure safety measures are followed, like increased cleaning and adequate social distancing of tables. Most attractions will also be held outdoors, said Stoehr.
Top of mind for the event center and fair team, she noted, is providing a fun and comfortable event to the county after the past year of hardship.
“We’re super excited and for us it’s healing to be able to plan this for our community,” said Stoehr. “We hope it’s healing for them to come.”
Note to reader: This story has been corrected to clarify information provided by an official. The San Mateo County Event Center is an Office of Emergency Services site and the county’s Office of Emergency Services is located in the Regional Operations Center building at County Center.
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