Delaware residents can anticipate some changes to the most anticipated week of the year.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Delaware County Fair will be held Sept. 19 to 26, with the Little Brown Jug set Sept. 24 -- though both likely will look different from events of the past.

County fair manager Sandra Kuhn said the fair board made the decision to go ahead with this year's event after reviewing a list of guidelines issued by Responsible Restart Ohio on county and independent fairs, and holding a conference call with officials at the Delaware General Health District.

Restart Ohio, operating under the auspices of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health, summarizes the guidelines at tinyurl.com/COVIDfairs.

The guidelines include several mandates, including sanitation stations set up near concession stands and barns and the avoidance of physical contact between people.

They also include a separate section of mandatory rules for harness racing.

In recent years, the Little Brown Jug has boasted a crowd exceeding 40,000 people.

The RestartOhio guidelines say grandstand events should be limited to half the seated capacity of the grandstand, with no more than 2,500 seated spectators, regardless of capacity.

A large percentage of each year's Jug crowd isn't in the grandstand, but instead packed against the fence along the backstretch and the track's four turns.

This year's rules say a "distance of 6 feet should be maintained between seated spectators with the exception of family members who are encouraged to sit together."

Regardless of whether the backstretch crowd can be considered seated, the rules also say, "Fair boards and managers should conduct the fair in a manner that discourages the large gathering of people on the midway or on other parts of the fairgrounds."

Each year, the Jug also is simulcast in Ohio's casinos and up to 300 locations elsewhere, including many in other countries, senior fair board president Tom Wright said last year.

The amount of money wagered in 2018 at simulcast locations topped about $3 million, exceeding the $2 million bet in Delaware, Wright said.

The RestartOhio guidelines add, "Where possible, the fair should provide one-way traffic in buildings or other areas, where doing so will help people maintain social distancing."

In a news release, Wright said, "We are excited to continue planning for the fair while working hand in hand with the Delaware (General) Health District to ensure that we have a safe and enjoyable environment for all of our patrons."

Traci Whittaker, the health district's public information officer, said while the fair will be "very different" this year, the district hopes it can open safely and that guests will follow the guidelines.

"We have been having weekly conversations with Delaware County Fair officials on how to hold a safe fair amid COVID-19 regulations," Whittaker said. "These conversations include how to maintain social distancing and sanitizing along with contingency planning if any orders take place between now and the fair."  

Wright said the fair would include the annual Junior Fair and programming, which heavily features 4-H members. More information on the Junior Fair will be released when plans are finalized, he said.

Wright said the fair will include five days of harness racing in addition to the Jug.

"We are wanting to create a safe environment for families and race fans to enjoy this annual tradition," Wright said. "Ticket and spectator information will be announced by the end of July."

The fair plans to provide regular updates on its website, delawarecountyfair.com, and its Facebook page as more decisions are made in the coming weeks, the release said.

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