Youngsters enjoy a carnival ride at the 2019 Okanogan County Fair.

OKANOGAN — The Okanogan County Fair, planned for Sept. 10-13, has been canceled by the Okanogan County commissioners.

Alternate events are in the works for youngsters with market animals and those with still life projects.

Commissioners decided during their June 30 meeting to pull the plug on the fair because of COVID-19 concerns. Until the county gains Safe Start Phase 4 status, when gatherings of unlimited size are allowed, the fair wouldn’t be able to happen.

Okanogan County is in Phase 2, with Phase 3 still a ways off because COVID-19 numbers are rising, according to Okanogan County Public Health officials.

Under Phase 2, gatherings are limited to one encounter per week with a group up to five people not in a person’s household. Under Phase 3, gatherings are limited to 50 people. In addition, Gov. Jay Inslee has walked back the possibility of Phase 4 for any county in the state because of continually rising virus cases.

Okanogan County gained 23 cases between June 26 and July 2. From July 2-4, there were another 16 confirmed cases.

Commissioners’ action came a day after the Okanogan County Fair Advisory Committee recommended during a special meeting that commissioners cancel the fair.

“We want to do it (have a fair) and we can’t do it,” Commissioner Andy Hover told the advisory committee during its meeting.

“Realistically, we will not be in Phase 4” by fair time, said fair committee Chairman Mike Egerton.

“We, like other fairs throughout Washington, also have great reservations as to our ability to ensure a safe gathering of our residents (young and old) during this pandemic,” said the committee’s written recommendation to commissioners.

“We, the FAC, realize the responsibility that has been entrusted to us, to keep a wholesome, healthy and safe tradition moving forward,” said the committee. “The Okanogan County Fair is the only yearly event where we as a county showcase and celebrate our youths’ achievements as one unified family that we as Okanogan County residents enjoy.”

The fair committee put off making a recommendation for several weeks in hopes of the coronavirus situation improving. But vendors were slow to send in their fees, insurance became a concern for some, state funding was in question and possible attendance losses were feared.

“We know it’s going to be hard on everybody,” said Hover. “But with the logistics of the fair, we can’t do it. As commissioners, we cannot. All other fairs have been canceled.”

He said the county also is being pressured financially by the state, which could withhold money if Safe Start phase orders are defied.

Meanwhile, the fair livestock committee is working on plans for a two-day show and auction, with pre-registered youngsters bringing their animals to the fairgrounds – or possibly another site – to participate in fitting and showing competitions and the sale. Entry to the event would be regulated.

A live stream of the sale would be offered so people could watch online.

As of last week, youngsters had registered 162 pigs, 65 steers and 68 sheep, according to livestock coordinator Lori Caswell.

Natasha Moffitt-Hemmer, Okanogan County 4-H program coordinator for Washington State University Extension, said 4-H is under a WSU mandate that members can’t participate unless the county is in Phase 4.

She said plans are in the works for an online showcase of 4-H members still life projects – artwork, baking and so on – with judging and ribbons. The showcase could be expanded to include junior open exhibitors.

Prior to the decision to ax the fair, The Chronicle ran an online poll to see what form readers thought the fair should take this year.

Move ahead with the traditional fair garnered the most responses at 65.3 percent. Skip the fair and have a market sale only brought 13.2 percent of respondents’ support, while cancel it and plan a bigger and better fair next year brought 9.9 percent support.

Host a virtual fair drew 4.1 percent of respondents, while consider postponing the fair and “I don’t care either way” each brought 3.7 percent support.

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