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The Ramsey County Fair has been canceled this summer after leaders decided it would be impossible to enforce social distancing at the annual celebration.

Ramsey County joins a growing list of county fairs calling it quits.

Fairs in Aitkin, Freeborn and Kittson counties have also been canceled.

So far, the Minnesota State Fair remains on track for its run from Aug. 20 - Sept. 7, though Gov. Tim Walz has said he has doubts as the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly run through the state.

On Wednesday, the Ramsey County Agricultural Society board of directors voted to cancel the event, in its 107th year.

It had been scheduled for July 15 - 19 at the fairgrounds in Maplewood. The board said it would allow for a limited exhibit day so 4-H members and other youth groups could still compete and qualify for the State Fair. 4-H programming has been suspended until June 30.

"The decision was very difficult but will allow the fair to present in its 108th year in 2021," fair officials said in a statement.

Jodie Grabarski, president of the Ramsey County Agricultural Society, said they've spent the last month conferring with vendors, stakeholders, local and state officials.

"Social distancing in a mass gathering — it didn't make sense to try and do that, especially not knowing where we will be in July," Grabarski said. "I don't want to be responsible for creating a hot spot and making people sick."

Grabarski, an attorney, said the risks were just too great. An outbreak tied to the event would do irreparable harm to its reputation and expose them to legal liability.

"It's a long tradition and we want to preserve it," she said.

Fair leaders also did not want to add to the demands of police and first responders, already spread thin with the COVID-19 response.

The Ramsey County Fair is a free event so they don't have specific attendance figures, but Grabarski said thousands come each year.

Other fair officials are worried about the safety of fairgoers and workers and the ability to access supplies including gloves and sanitizer.

"Right now we have about seven fairs that have canceled and a handful more questioning what they will do," said Steve Storck, president of the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.

Storck said a lot of fair leaders are waiting to see what Walz decides on May 18, when the stay-at-home order is set to expire. Many will have to act quickly as vendors typically need six weeks notice.

"The decision to cancel this year's fair was not made lightly as it impacts so many individuals and businesses in the county. Yet, we believe it's the right decision for all involved" Taylor Lindegard, Kittson County Fair president, said in a statement.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037