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No fair this year

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Fairgoers fly through the air on one of the midway rides during the 2012 State Fair. People who had tickets to this year’s fair can use them next year or in 2022.

SANTA FE – The turkey legs and funnel cakes are going to have to wait a year.

New Mexico announced the cancellation of its 2020 State Fair on Friday, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to the deaths of 489 residents and infected thousands of others.

It’s the first cancellation since the fair began in 1938.

In a written statement, General Manager Dan Mourning said Friday that fair organizers examined their options, consulted with health officials and determined it wasn’t feasible to proceed with the event – for the first time in 82 years.

“The decision to cancel this year’s fair has come after weeks and months of deliberations, fact finding, and consultation with state health officials,” Mourning said. “We have been unable to find a path to follow that would result in a State Fair that we all recognize.”

The main gates of Expo New Mexico were locked Friday as state officials announced the cancellation of the 2020 State Fair.

The fair had been scheduled for Sept. 10-20 in Albuquerque at Expo New Mexico.

Cancellation of the State Fair comes as the spread of COVID-19 accelerates in New Mexico. Health officials reported 225 new cases Friday – the third-highest daily total since the outbreak surfaced March 11.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this week put the state’s next reopening phase on hold, and she has pleaded with New Mexicans to wear masks to help slow the spread of the disease.

Surrounding states are also responding to surges in virus cases.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said the state had been hit with a “massive outbreak,” and he ordered bars to close and restaurants to scale back to 50% capacity.

The Lujan Grisham administration has not yet allowed bars in New Mexico to resume operations, though breweries can open at half capacity. In-person dining at restaurants is also allowed at half capacity.

A public health order in effect through Wednesday – and expected to be extended – advises New Mexicans to stay at home for all but essential outings. It generally prohibits gatherings of five or more people.

Cloth masks are required in public settings, except when eating, drinking or exercising at least 6 feet from other people.

“The worst thing we can do is move backward,” Lujan Grisham said on Twitter. “In New Mexico we will be safe, methodical and smart as we learn to live in a COVID-positive world. Please – help me, help your neighbors and help your state keep this virus under control.”

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the health orders are damaging the livelihoods of New Mexicans.

“The governor has shown little understanding of how her policies have devastated our state and have clearly sounded a death knell for our economy,” he said in a written statement.

Mourning said cancellation of the State Fair ensures compliance with New Mexico’s health orders.

“While we are heartbroken that there will be no New Mexico State Fair in 2020,” he said, “we remain committed to putting the safety and well-being of our staff, vendors and our community above all else.”

Organizing the fair takes year-round planning – work that’s been disrupted by the pandemic – and it made sense to cancel the event now rather than wait, he said.

Crowds gather on the midway during the New Mexico State Fair in 2009. Officials say it’s one of the biggest events of the year in New Mexico, drawing 500,000 visitors. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Anyone who already has tickets to the 2020 fair can use them for the State Fair next year or in 2022.

Mourning estimated the fair draws 500,000 people, making it one of the best-attended events in New Mexico.

Health officials, meanwhile, are confronting a growing number of coronavirus cases.

New Mexico health officials reported four more COVID-19 deaths Friday, pushing the statewide death toll to 489 residents.

All four deaths were adults in McKinley County with underlying health conditions, including a woman in her 20s. The others were in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

The 225 new cases reported Friday are among the highest single-day totals in New Mexico. The only two bigger days were June 5 – when 330 positive tests came in, driven partly by an outbreak among inmates – and April 29, when the state had 239 new infections.

The falling number of virus patients hospitalized, however, remains a bright spot – with just 128 people in the hospital Friday, down 13% from a week ago.

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