The S.C. State Fair returns Oct. 13 through Oct. 24 at full capacity for the first time since 2019. Photo by Julie Crosby

Despite rising COVID-19 cases in the state in early September, the South Carolina State Fair is planning to be back to normal with safety adjustments added into their plans for the state’s largest event.

Nancy Smith, the State Fair general manager and a 30-year employee of the organization, said it has been a challenge to navigate COVID and figure out how they will run the event that usually averages around 400,000 people.

“It’s been a total roller coaster the whole time,” said Smith. “What we can say about the fair is that patron safety is always our number one concern and that is something that has not changed from the COVID standpoint and the overall standpoint of safety.”

A recent spike in COVID cases in S.C. has brought more attention to a need for extra safety precautions. On Sept. 1, the City of Columbia reinstated a 30-day mask mandate to slow the spread of the virus.

“The fairgrounds is located within the city of Columbia and that’s the city’s mandate and we will follow the mandates of that and we will move forward accordingly,” said Smith.

Smith said that there will be more hand sanitizing stations on the grounds of the fair.

Fair officials are also asking their patrons to purchase tickets online or at Circle K gas stations starting Sept. 8 “to have more touchless points of contact.”

As COVID precautions have placed emphasis on mask mandates, city officials have started ticketing across Columbia and will continue to do so at the fair.

Mike DeSumma, public information officer for the Columbia Fire Department, says they are following suit in the practice of ticketing for patrons violating the mask mandate.

“It’s not our goal to write tickets. We don’t want to go out there ticket crazy,” said DuSumma. “Our goal really is to educate people, make sure they really understand that there is the ordinance and it does apply and that we need their cooperation and to follow it. To answer your question, will we enforce the ordinance? Yes. Are we looking to write tickets like crazy? No.”

With masks required at the fairgrounds, DeSumma said the fire department wants to make sure that everyone in the community is on the same page regarding the ordinance and ticketing procedures.

“Anytime our personnel are going to be at events our fire prevention office is going to be making sure that the COVID preventative guidelines are being followed, specifically to the mask ordinance,” said DeSumma. “We are just making sure that people are masking up.”

Even with masks being required at the fair, there is still excitement to have the festivities as close to normal as it can get.

“I’m excited. I didn’t go last year because of COVID. I went as a freshman,” said Ainsley Bradbury, a third year student at the University of South Carolina. “Growing up in Ohio, the fair was a big thing that I did with my family ever since they were pushing me in a stroller. It kind of reminds me of home, which is what I liked about it freshman year too.”

With the S.C. State Fair only three weeks away, Smith shares the same enthusiasm as her patrons.

“We are excited to be back,” said Smith. “We missed our people in person last year and personally I feel it’s more important now than ever that your fair is back because we need to do something positive…for the people of South Carolina and the world. We need that more than ever.”

The City of Columbia has reinstated a citywide mask mandate, leading to increased COVID-19 precautions in the fairgrounds. 

Drone shots of the drastic difference between the 2019 S.C. State Fair and the 2020 drive-thru version. Photo courtesy of the S.C. State Fair

The S.C. State Fair is open to the public on Oct. 13 with special events on certain days.

Nancy Smith, general manager for the S.C. State Fair, hopes “wash hands” signage on the ground encourages patrons to take more COVID-19 safety precautions.