URBANA — The annual county fair marks the beginning of summer’s end in Champaign County.
The Champaign County Fair opened its gates on Friday evening to begin its 169th year after being canceled two years ago due to COVID-19.
For some fair attendees, it was nice to return to the normalcy of pre-pandemic county fairs.
Champaign resident Chane Butler was at Friday evening’s fair with his family. Before Friday, he hadn’t gone to the fair since the late 70s.
Butler said county fairs help unite community members of different social, ethnic and racial backgrounds, especially considering how social media isolates younger people from face-to-face interactions.
“Coming out to something like this brings people together, forces them to interact, have fun, laugh, talk and meet new people,” he said. “I think that, you know, communities need that.”
Linda Hanner’s family owns the Kona Ice truck at the fairgrounds. She said it’s the business’ seventh time vending at the fair.
Like Butler, Hanner said the county fair brings people together.
“After the pandemic and not being able to have it for a year or two, I think everybody’s excited to get out and meet their friends and just enjoy good food,” she said. “It’s fun.”
It’s the second year the fair has opened since its 2020 pandemic-related cancellation, and Butler said it’s nice to return to the fairgrounds without being under the heavy influence of COVID-19.
“It feels great,” he said. “It feels great to be able to come out without that dark cloud looming over you, you know, not being able to interact with people. I think we’re coming to the end of the COVID phase, and things can start to normalize again.”
Danielle Barre of Monticello said she’s lost track of the number of Champaign County Fairs that she’s attended. Like Butler and Hanner, she agreed that it’s nice to return to the fair without the disruption of the pandemic.
“It’s always a fun time running into people you know that you haven’t seen in a long time,” Barre said. “So it’s really nice to get out and just kind of have a normal life again.”
Champaign County has a high level of COVID-19 spread within the community, with more than 600 active cases as of July 22, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Although Chris Banner of Urbana said the number of COVID-19 cases in the county is a little concerning, he said he’s comforted by the availability of vaccines.
“Everybody’s pretty much vaccinated,” Banner said. “If you catch it now, the likelihood is that it’s gonna feel like a cold, so I feel like the worst-case scenario risks are pretty heavily mitigated.”
Out of the county’s population of 209,922, 135,509 residents – or about 64 percent – are fully vaccinated for the virus.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only threat to fair patrons’ well-being. According to EMTs Rebecca Long and Philip Wachter, the summer heat is also risky for fairgoers.
During the nine-day fair, high temperatures are predicted to reach 85 degrees on Wednesday, July 27.
Long and Wachter were at the fair on Friday to respond to medical emergencies, specifically at the Cole Swindell concert.
Wachter said hot temperatures may be risky for fairgoers due to the likelihood of heat exposure and dehydration.
“Heat is definitely a big deal in the summer,” Wachter said. “Especially with alcohol being served. It doesn’t hydrate you.”
Long said fairgoers should take breaks in the shade, eat food and drink water to take care of themselves and avoid dehydration.
Wachter agreed, saying people should begin drinking water before spending time in the heat. He said people can stay safe in the heat by drinking water, wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure.
“I think that the big thing is just to make sure you’re enjoying yourself but doing it responsibly and thinking about what you’re going to do prior to coming out,” Wachter said.