One week ago, That Famous Preston Rodeo was cancelled. But as of Monday, the Cache County Fair and Rodeo is scheduled “to go forward as we have the last three years,” despite Utah’s uptick in COVID-19 cases, according to Lane Parker, the fair’s manager.
Or rather, as close to normal as is currently possible, Cache County Executive Craig Buttars said.
“I think it will be the same thing that we’re seeing in the community with physical distancing, sanitizing stations, and we’re going to be encouraging people to wear masks — or bandanas, which might be more appropriate for the fair and the rodeo,” he said. “But we’re just trying to make it a safe and a fun event for the whole county.”
After months of discussion and planning, Parker said the decision to proceed as planned was simple.
“We don’t see that the reason to quit is as strong as the reason to keep going,” Parker said.
The carnival, rodeo, concerts, 4H events and auction are all in the works. In fact, Parker said an additional event has been added to the lineup to extend the typically three-day event to four, from Aug. 5-8 at the Cache County Fairgrounds and Event Center.
“For Wednesday night, there will be a special new event kind of for PRCA, which is an extreme broncs, which is just the top saddle bronc riders in the nation are all expected to be here,” Parker said. “And so if you’re into rodeo, that’s a big deal.”
Preston’s rodeo had planned to cap tickets to 35% capacity to follow local health department precautions before ultimately cancelling, but Parker said in a recent meeting with the Bear River Health Department, he expressed the desire to see every seat filled at the rodeo — a capacity of 5,000.
“We told them what we were doing, that we wanted to sell every seat at a rodeo, and we wanted to have the carnival to be able to accommodate as many as come,” he said. “We will just advise anybody who has a compromised immune system, or thinks that they might be compromised in some way, that this may be the year to stay home.”
A representative from the health department said they met with the board early on in the process to explain the guidelines laid out in the Utah Leads Together plan from the governor’s office, and Joshua Greer, also with BRHD, said the goal is to be a resource to aid in safe planning.
“We help them, help walk them through the guideline, like ‘this is what they say,’ or ‘have you thought about this?’” Greer said, “but, at the end of day, we’re not the ones who approve events or close them down, either.”
According to the Utah Leads Together plan, outdoor events of up to 6,000 individuals are allowed in the current “yellow,” or low risk phase, and indoor events are to be capped at 3,000. Though the event center at the fairgrounds has a 3,000-person capacity, Buttars said he doubts it will get close to that with the home art and 4H displays taking up some of the space.
While Gov. Gary Herbert’s guidelines for the state also include tracking participants and counting attendants to aid in contact tracing in case of COVID-19 spreading, both Parker and Buttars said other than the rodeo tickets, there’s not a way to accommodate this aspect.
“We don’t have a gate charge,” Parker said, “and you can’t regulate who comes in and out.”
Buttars added though attendance is difficult to track, the fairgrounds are quite large.
“So we just hope that people will take responsibility for themselves and do what they feel they need to do to keep themselves safe,” he said.
Other guidelines include promoting physical distancing, encouraging face coverings and masks when physical distancing is not feasible, tracking attendance and seating assignments, or designated sitting/standing areas to assist with contact tracing efforts and putting extra hygiene and sanitization practices in place.
Parker said the Cache County Council-appointed board over the fair has been universally supportive of the plan, despite the difficulties in distancing if held as in previous years.
“Physical distancing may be difficult,” he said. “But if you wish to come, then protect yourself. However you see that, it’s important to do, whether it’s a mask or no mask or whatever you decide, if you feel like you want to come and be a part of it, then you cover your own needs at that point.”