When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that the New York State Fair would go on this summer, it was a glimmer of hope for other county fairs and outdoor festivals that had to cancel last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some have already canceled for the second consecutive year, including the Allentown Art Festival and Canal Fest.
Starting May 15, offices can increase capacity to 75%, up from 50%. Gyms at fitness clubs outside of New York City will be able to allow 50% capacity, up from 33%.
And the largest in the region, the Erie County Fair, is hoping the good news extends to other county fairs.
"We want to have a fair, and it is in our plan to have a fair," Jessica Underberg, CEO and fair manager, told reporters Monday afternoon. "Looking at the state fair guidance today, I think we'll be OK if it is something like that."
The 181st Erie County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 11-22, while the fair waits on state and county guidelines.
The state fair will be held from Aug. 20 to Sept. 6 at the state fairgrounds in Syracuse, Cuomo said.
At this point, state officials are planning to limit capacity at the fair to 50%, though the governor said that may increase, depending on Covid-19 levels. The fairgrounds also will be divided into four areas – food and beverage, amusements, concert and agricultural – in order to have better control of crowd sizes.
Underberg said she does not envision quadrants for the Erie County Fair.
"When people come to the fair, they want to experience all parts," she said, adding that fairs "are set up to keep people transient throughout the property. It's different than sitting down for a three-hour play."
She believes county fairs will be given a capacity on visitors and that all those attending and working will have to wear masks. She said fair staff has examined a number of scenarios from 33% capacity and higher.
"If the state fair has 50%, then I think county fairs should have the same flexibility," Underberg said.
She said the fair may change the way it sells tickets, and they may have to be purchased in advance. The fair will look at the grandstand acts from 2020 that were rolled over to 2021, to see if they should return. And layouts in buildings and on the grounds might change to provide more room.
"There probably isn't much you will ask that myself, my staff and the board, that we haven't thought about at 3 a.m.," she said.
Underberg said she hopes guidance from the state Health Department comes out this week, particularly for counties whose fairs start in July.
In the event that the fair is canceled again this year, the fair board has committed to providing an outlet for the youth who exhibit and enter competitions, she said.
Western New York will go without two summertime traditions again this year.
Other annual festivals are anxiously watching infection rates and looking for state guidance.
A Taste of Buffalo is cautiously planning to return July 10 and 11.
"We are working with our state and county officials to follow all safety guidelines that may be in place come this July. We hope this announcement gives our community something to look forward to this summer and sends a message to our local restaurants that better days are ahead," the festival said on its website.
The Niagara County Peach Festival in September is pending, and the Eden Corn Festival also is making plans to hold its event Aug. 5-8.
"We have taken enhanced health and safety measures for you, our visitors, and our volunteers and the Eden Corn Festival volunteers and staff. Everyone must follow all posted instructions while visiting the Eden Corn Festival. An inherent risk of exposure to Covid-19 exists in any public place where people are present," organizers said on the festival's webpage.
But organizers of other outside traditions have decided it is too difficult to plan their events this summer.
"Although we have been preparing to hold the show this year, the Covid restrictions on large group gatherings and our concern for the health and safety of our patrons, artists, and vendors prevents the return of our event this year," Allentown Art Festival president Rita Harrington Lippman said in a statement last month.
"In the end, there are just too many moving parts for an event this large to try to project what may or may not be allowed in the middle of July," said Eileen Hotho, co-chairwoman of BurgerFest in Hamburg.
The annual Queen of Heaven Carnival in West Seneca is on hold, but the committee is holding a "carnival of drive-thru dinners" with monthly drive through dinners.