SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — Mostly unmasked crowds packed into the Missouri State Fair shoulder-to-shoulder this week as it opened in Sedalia amid soaring numbers of new COVID-19 infections.
Fair officials decided in the spring to bring back the full fair after replacing it with a much smaller youth livestock show last year because of safety concerns.
“We’re not seeing any kind of slowdown in attendance and are expecting an average to good year,” State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said, adding that his staff estimate up to 340,000 people will attend the event before it closes Aug. 22.
Unlike the state fair in neighboring Illinois, masks are optional.
Among the unmasked was Brian Eggers, 55, a farmer who lives outside Chillicothe. He lost a close neighbor as well as aunts and uncles to COVID-19. He said he hadn’t got around to getting vaccinated.
“I’m not anti-vaccine, but I haven’t gotten it myself yet,” he said, as he watched a youth livestock show, adding: “If God wants to take me, that’s his choice.”
On the other edge of the fair near a building displaying quilt work and other crafts, Kelly Alexander and her husband, of Lee’s Summit, were the only ones in the crowd wearing masks. They are also vaccinated.
“My son and daughter-in-law aren’t vaccinated and got the virus just a few weeks ago,” she said. “My husband was in the hospital earlier this year and is high risk, so I’m just terrified if he ever gets sick, so yes I’m going to wear a mask, even if I’m the only one.”
Jessica Miller, who staffed the fair’s vaccination station, said five patients had come in for shots in the fair’s first 2 1/2 hours of operation. Some told Miller that their jobs were going to require the vaccine or that they would be allowed to not wear a mask if they got vaccinated.
Miller, a respiratory therapist who is trained to run ventilator machines used in the most dire COVID-19 cases, worked for eight weeks in Long Island, N.Y., last spring when the virus was raging and crowding hospitals in the area.
“I had to be there when they gasped their way to death alone without their family,” Miller said, recalling that she was disappointed when she returned home to Sedalia and was met with skepticism and indifference about the virus.
Now, with cases surging and the vaccination rate still low, Miller said she feared that more people would die in her town because of vaccine resistance. As she spoke, a group of young unmasked women passed the booth, sneering at the vaccine effort.
“Yeah, that’s been happening,” Miller said, unfazed. “I don’t let it bother me. We’re here if anyone is ready to get the vaccine, and we’ve already done five. That’s what matters.”