TACOMA, Wash. — Washington State Fair guests will be required to wear masks at all times as Pierce County grapples with "unprecedented levels" of COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, health director for Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, announced a health order Tuesday, which is effective Sept. 3 and makes the mask requirement a condition of the fair's operation.
The Washington State Fair, which is the largest fair in the Pacific Northwest, runs at the Puyallup Fairgrounds from Sept. 3-26.
"The fair is such an important economic and cultural and so many other aspects of our community, but we are working here together so we can try to mitigate the impacts,” Chen said.
Masks must be worn indoors and outdoors at all times, regardless of vaccination status, according to the order. Exceptions include people who are eating or drinking, when it is essential to communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and when it’s necessary to confirm someone’s identity.
The order applies to attendees five years old and older. People who have a medical condition or disability where a mask could obstruct breathing are also exempt from the order.
In addition to masking requirements, the fair plans to test employees for COVID-19 before and during the fair, offer public COVID-19 testing, offer vaccinations at two locations, cut rides by 10% to allow more physical distancing, reduce vendors by 25%, add dividers between vendors at the Mattress Firm ShowPlex and provide additional handwashing and sanitizing stations.
The fair will not require guests to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are at “an all-time high” in Pierce County, which prompted the order to help limit the spread of the virus. In mid-August, Pierce County was recording on average more than 400 new COVID-19 cases per day, which is the highest the county has seen since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.
The masking requirement came one day after two hospital leaders said during a Washington State Hospital Association briefing that the Washington State Fair should be canceled due to the stress it would inevitably put on hospitals.
Chen said the county would be "keeping a very close eye" on COVID-19 cases in Pierce County, and would evaluate certain criteria to determine if additional steps needed to be taken, including asking the fair to close. Those criteria include hospital capacity and crisis status, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests among fair staff and outbreaks connected to fair staff or guests.