COVID-19 concerns scuttle State Fair booth

COVID-19 concerns scuttle State Fair booth

by Jane McClure

The 2021 Minnesota State Fair was missing a popular stop for Minnesotans with disabilities. The Minnesota Council on Disability (MCD) decided August 11 to boycott the fair, raising issues with a lack of state mandates on masking and other measures to control the spread of COVID-19.

The council released a strongly worded statement on what it seems as the lack of pandemic protocols and the public disregard and marginalization for people with disabilities caused by that laxity. “We believe that this letter can serve as a wake-up call to our leaders across government and the leadership of the State Fair that it is never too late to do the right thing and that society can and must do better. We need to implement stronger vaccine, masking, and crowd requirements at the State Fair,” the letter stated.

Minnesotans with disabilities on social media boards expressed discomfort with attending the 2011 fair, citing the crowds and lack of safety measures. The option is to stay home. the letter stated, “The implicit message that Minnesotans with disabilities are asked not to attend is an unacceptable alternative.”

The council for years has had a large presence in the fair’s Education Building. Some groups and organizations have given up their fair booths and joined forces with the council. Dozens of disability service organizations team up with the state council to provide informational materials as well as volunteers for the area.

Cancellation of the 2020 fair left many Minnesotans without a one-stop shop for information on a wide range of disabilities and services.

But with too many uncertainties about the COVID-19 pandemic and the aggressive Delta variant raising alarms, council leadership made the decision to not have the fair booth. Instead, council staff kept busy mailing out materials including posters and brochures.

A letter announced the decision. “Throughout the summer, we looked to government leadership and State Fair leadership to create a safe and welcoming environment for Minnesotans with disabilities and aging Minnesotans. Unfortunately, our leaders have not stepped up to require masks, vaccines, or crowd limits at the State Fair. Our state has not reached a level of vaccinations that creates herd immunity. We are currently experiencing another COVID-19 wave due to the Delta variant (including outbreaks at many other fairs around the state). Minnesota is dangerously close to crossing the 5.0 percent positivity rate, which the (Centers for Disease Control) would label as “substantial spread.”

The council also took issue with fellow Minnesotans who refuse to mask up and take other safety precautions. Many people with disabilities, their family members and caregivers have spent the past 18-plus months in isolation. groups like Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota and others had top advocate for people with disabilities to get on the list for vaccines in the spring.

“In their desire to return to normal, Minnesotans have resisted masking. Some have resisted vaccinations, despite the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 has on Minnesotans with disabilities and aging Minnesotans. By not creating a safe place for all Minnesotans to gather, MCD’s presence at the State Fair this year would reinforce the message to society that the lives of people with disabilities are less important.”

The lack of safety protocols for the fair was called out. “… others have attempted to frame this issue as freedom from vaccines or masks rather than as a right for Minnesotans with disabilities to be healthy and alive. MCD cannot endorse the decision to make masking optional at the State Fair. We cannot support the refusal to make hard decisions that will upset some but likely save many. People with disabilities are rarely at the front of social conversations about right and wrong, equality and rights. This lack of action continues the trend of deprioritizing marginalized communities. These policies, or lack of policies, appear to be overlooking Minnesotans with disabilities and other marginalized communities, making people’s health a secondary priority. This lack of leadership and policies does not represent our state’s diverse racial, ethnic, aging, or disability communities – all of which have higher risks from COVID-19.”

the letter was signed by Nikki Villavicencio, chair, Ramsey County and Trent Dilks, Vice Chair, Stearns County, Other council members supported the letter. the council advises the government and state lawmakers on policy issues.

The council also has a long history of working with fair officials on access issues, but wasn’t able to have an impact on the fair’s safety plan.

What concerned that the council as that the state has had several COVID-19 since early August, as festivals and fairs have resumed.

The September issue of Access Press went to press before the fair began. As of newspaper deadline, fair officials weren’t requiring masks or proof of vaccination for attendees. nor were attendance caps to be imposed. As many as 100 regular groups and vendors also cut back or in some cases including WCCO Radio, pulled out entirely.

The fair draws about two million people each year.