Our world has been turned upside down and it seems nothing makes sense anymore. Businesses have closed, people are out of work and the future seems so uncertain. And to top it off, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Orange County has once again closed movie theaters, malls, indoor dining and fitness centers. Large entertainment venues like Disneyland, Angels Stadium and OC Fair & Event Center remain closed, and there will be no OC Fair this summer.
It really was sad news in April when we announced the cancelation of the 2020 OC Fair due to the pandemic. I don’t know who was more upset, our staff or our guests who make their annual summer pilgrimage to the OC Fair. One of the best social media comments I saw after the announcement was from a young fair fan who said, “If the 2020 OC Fair is canceled, then I want 2020 canceled!” It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone wish we could just put this year behind us.
It’s not just the fair that was canceled at OC Fair & Event Center. Centennial Farm, our three-acre teaching farm that hosts free tours for school kids and the public is currently closed. Heroes Hall, our veterans museum and education center open free to the public, is currently closed. We had to cancel Imaginology this year, our free three-day science, technology, engineering, arts and math festival.
For a while it seemed that everyone in Orange County was working together to “flatten the curve” so businesses could reopen and the fun could return. My colleagues at other fairs in the state and at other entertainment venues in Orange County were hopeful that we could bring back the fun for our guests sooner than later. Now the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Orange County has delayed reopening even further.
There is no doubt the community misses the fun and wants it back. But that’s going to take all of us working together again to control the spread. Governor Newsom recently said, “We all have a responsibility to slow the spread. It is imperative – and required – that Californians protect each other by wearing masks and practicing physical distancing when in public so we can fully reopen our economy. We all need to stand up, be leaders, show we care and get this done.”
I echo the Governor’s message and take it a step further that while we’re working together to bring back the fun, let’s also focus on the needs of our community. At OC Fair & Event Center, we’ve often been called “the community square.” Right now, while we’re unable to have the fair, we’re using the property for free emergency food distribution in partnership with local nonprofits. It’s amazing to see 3,000-4,000 vehicles line up while volunteers (including our own staff and Board members) put farm fresh boxes of produce, meat, cheese and milk into their trunks every Saturday. I feel good that a simple empty parking lot can be transformed into an incredible community action, and that produce grown at Centennial Farm is going into some of those boxes.
When this pandemic began to take hold in Orange County and we made the decision to close the fairgrounds to the public, I told everyone that what we do at OC Fair & Event Center is special and important, and that the community needs us. So, we’re keeping the spirit of the fair alive through our OC Virtual Fair with lots of free fun and entertainment on social media and our web site.
We know how much the OC Fair means to Orange County, just like all of our favorite entertainment venues in the community. But bringing back the fair will take everyone working together as a community. As the Governor said, wearing a face covering in public, physically distancing and avoiding large gatherings can make a huge impact. Let’s mask up and bring back the fun. We can do this together, Orange County.
Michele Richards is the CEO of OC Fair & Event Center and a resident of Laguna Niguel
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