Families enjoy opening day at Washington State Fair as health officials announce new outdoor mask mandate

On Friday the Washington State Fair kicked off its opening day after the being forced to close last year due to pandemic restrictions. Families filed into the fairgrounds to be part of a South Sound tradition that has touched generations for more than a century. 

But this year’s fair looks a lot different than before as health officials require visitors to wear face coverings, and the number of vendors and rides have shrunk to encourage social distancing. Officials from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department required fairgoers to don masks for both indoor and outdoor attractions. 

Most inside the fairgrounds could be seen wearing masks but not necessarily those outside the gates. By Friday afternoon, parking in the lots around the fairgrounds appeared to show ample parking availability. 

"I’m done," said Isaiah Stewart as his family left the fairgrounds early afternoon. "I spent hundreds of dollars, so."

Day one at the Washington State Fair was pricey and by the smiles on his three children’s faces, a good time.

"We needed to get of the house," said Isaiah, adding that his wife’s birthday was also good reason for the family to celebrate together. "I was like let’s go, let’s get the kids out."

Many other families attending the fair said it felt good to bring back just a slice of normal. Mom Jessica Ketter was already planning another visit with for her two girls when she spoke with Q13 News.

"Probably go next weekend," she said, "The 13th is another free day so we’ll go donate some more food."

Friday afternoon, TPCHD officials announced an outdoor countywide face-covering mandate would go into effect by Tuesday, but suggested people should adopt the guidance as soon as possible. 

At the fair’s northeast corner entrance a giant banner detailing health officials’ face covering mandate greeted guests before they entered the fairgrounds.. 

"We will enforce it as best we can," fair spokesperson Stacy Van Horne told Q13 News on Thursday. "We have security on the grounds; police will not be enforcing this."

On opening day, fair officials say there were no problems with guests refusing to wear masks. Even so, just days ago the Washington State Hospital Association warned that hospitalization and infection rates could be impacted by large gatherings like the fair.

"People should be incredibly cautious about going to any kind of mass gathering right now," WSHA CEO Cassie Sauer said earlier this week.

Fair officials said they could not immediately supply attendance data to determine if the number of ticket holders had changed significantly from year’s past. 

Some families said opening day looked less packed than in previous years while others said they planned to keep their visit short to avoid crowds.

"It’s going to get packed," said Stewart. "That’s when you don’t want to go there."

Not only are masks required inside the fair including for people on rides, they are also required for those attending outdoor concerts. Fair officials say the seating charts for those venues had not changed.