The Ravalli County Fairgrounds recently posted a notice concerning the cancellation of the main portion of the Ravalli County Fair by Ravalli County Public Health Officer Dr. Carol Calderwood. The announcement contained a disclaimer stating that the decision was not made by department staff or the County Commissioners and is re-printed here:
“As some of you may have heard, 2020 Ravalli County Fair & Rockin’ RC Rodeo has been cancelled by the Ravalli County Public Health Officer. Staff had been working with Public Health on a contingency plan in order to hold fair. However, in light of public health and safety concerns, they have chosen to cancel the event. Please understand this decision was not made by Staff or the Ravalli County Board of Commissioners. Should you wish to express your opinion on the matter, please direct your comments to the Ravalli County Public Health Officials via email at [email protected] or call (406) 375-6672. We will post more information as it becomes available. Thank you!”
A public service announcement was sent out on Monday, July 13, that stated:
“It is with sadness and necessity that health officials are announcing the cancellation of the main portion of the 2020 Ravalli County fair. In light of community spread and recent increase in daily new cases such a large gathering would increase the threat of exposure, leading to rapidly increasing spread of the Corona virus. This would significantly worsen the risk of illness and death to the general public. A high-expected attendance for the fair would make compliance with the Gov phase 2 directive essentially impossible. However fair organizers are working on a safe plan for more limited event to allow FFA and 4H events to proceed, provided cases don’t significantly worsen between now and then.” — Ravalli County Public Health Officials
A July 16 press release from the Public Health Department included the following:
“The following is a letter from the Ravalli County Health Officer:
To Whom It May Concern,
I have made the decision to cancel most of the 2020 County Fair, with support of the Ravalli County Board of Health, solely due to an eminent threat of escalation (from current steady community spread) to exponential spread with subsequent increases in morbidity and mortality.
We are at a juncture in the outbreak when our combined social actions are probably at their most critical, in shaping the upslope and overall shape of the local pandemic curve. In Public Health during this pandemic, our highest priorities are to protect the most vulnerable from uncontrolled spread and to protect the infrastructure of our healthcare delivery system. I have pondered the fair extensively, and cannot justify allowing a mass gathering at this critical time, with such potential for deleterious impact. The responsibility of making these hard decisions are mine and I cannot let the fair go forward now, with good conscience.
We are also required by law to uphold the Governor’s Directives for reopening and are currently in phase 2. The Fair Board worked hard on plans, and I know outside activities are generally safer, but I do not believe in my heart that people would socially distance in this setting, and spread would be unmitigated. Tracing cases and contacts acquired at the fair would be impossible and attendees would unknowingly spread COVID more rapidly throughout the community.
Please also see BOH letters of support.
Carol Calderwood, MD”
According to Fairgrounds Manager Melissa Saville, they had talked to Public Health officials on Friday and were asked if they would consider cancelling the Fair voluntarily.
“We told them that we had 100% support from the Fair Board and the County Commissioners,” she said. “We have already sold 75 out of 100 commercial booth spaces and already started some of our advertising.” She said public health officials were invited to a meeting to discuss contingency plans, “but it got wound up on social media so much that they were afraid that a big crowd was going to show up and declined to attend.”
Saville said that she was not contacted by any health officials before the cancellation was announced in a PSA late Monday afternoon. She said she first became aware of the cancellation when she was contacted by a reporter asking if she had any comment.
“Emotionally I’m saddened,” said Saville, “but the law gives her [the public health officer] the right to make the decision. I serve at the pleasure of the county commissioners. So, unless they tell me to break the law there’s not much I can do about it on my own.”
Saville said that a lot of people are upset about the cancellation. She said that she has heard from carnival people, rodeo people and commercial vendors who are very upset. Knowing how badly it made her feel to learn about it secondhand, she said that she was going to call all of them and tell them personally about the closure although most have probably already heard.
“It’s sad,” she said. “It takes an entire year to plan and execute a fair. Once a PSA goes out to every press in the state that it’s been cancelled, that’s a hard thing to recover from.” On the bright side, she said, “But now we are 75% ready for next year.”
Saville said that the Fairgrounds were still open and events are planned for almost every weekend and they were working on doing something to have the 4-H animal show and auction move forward, if possible.
The Ravalli County Fair Board met the evening following the release of the PSA. At the meeting Board Member Jean Schurman said that she was not interested in disputing the right of the Public Health Officer to cancel the fair. “Instead, I would like to address how the cancellation of the fair was handled.” She said the Fair Manager had not been notified.
“She had not been given the courtesy of being told first before the media was… This is a serious decision to make but it seems to me that the party involved, the fair, should have been notified first as a common, professional courtesy, and yes, even involved in the decision,” said Schurman. She said that public comment at the meeting was varied although primarily opposed to cancellation.
Some urged the board to fight the cancellation, one saying, “the fair is a way of life.” Another person said it was good for the economy and called the cancellation “un-American.”
One woman then stood up and said she was a proud American and community member and didn’t see it as government overreach and that she understood the decision. She just hoped something could be done for the 4-H.
In response to a man who called it “runaway paranoia,” long time superintendent at the fair, Joy McClure, asked the audience how many people volunteered at the fair, saying that it was volunteers that make it happen.
“You are asking us to risk our lives,” said McClure.
At one point in the meeting a member of the public asked the board to vote on the cancellation of the fair. Board member Terri Lackey, an outspoken opponent of masking and social distancing rules, made the motion to consider the cancellation. It was seconded by Jeff Carter.
According to Schurman, County Commissioner Chris Hoffman and Beth Perkins, former county administrative assistant and current fairgrounds administrative assistant, and board president Margaret Yuhas noted that any such vote would not be valid since it was not on the meeting’s agenda. Schurman said after pressure from Lackey and others a vote was taken, and it was 4 to 2 to cancel the fair. She said before the meeting was over that Lackey had told chairman Yuhas that she (Lackey) was resigning from the board.