- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - There will be no rides or rows of games like ring toss, basketball or Whac-a-Mole, but officials with the South Carolina State Fair are still planning to hold a scaled-down version of the event this year in what they’re calling an effort to give the community a bright spot amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials with the fair announced Wednesday that they will be holding a drive-thru fair event on Oct. 20 and 21 at the fairgrounds in Columbia. Organizers say the event will be heavy on “unique, car-friendly attractions that highlight South Carolina’s agriculture, history, arts and culture.”

Large-scale gatherings remain shut down across South Carolina as the coronavirus outbreak continues. As recently as June, officials had been planning to go ahead with preparations for a traditional fair, saying they would continue to monitor the situation and make a determination later. Officials in at least 20 states have called off their events altogether, as North Carolina did Wednesday, its first fair cancellation since World War II.

For many people, no trip to the fair is complete without sampling the wide array of fair-specific cuisine, including footlong corndogs, funnel cakes and deep-fried delicacies. Organizers say visitors can still have that experience in a drive-thru format on part of the fairgrounds.

Considered the largest single attraction in South Carolina, the 12-day state fair has been a massive economic driver for the state, having a total economic impact of $45.5 million in 2018, according to researchers at the University of South Carolina, including nearly $3.8 million in federal tax revenue and more than $2.5 million in state and local taxes. In recent years, the fair has marked more than 400,000 in annual attendees.



This year’s event is free, meaning no revenue from admissions tickets that in years past have ranged from $7 to $10, with free admission for military members and children 5 and under.

While the spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations appears to have ended in South Carolina, the spread of the virus may remain for weeks or months at a high level that will drain resources. After nearly two months, South Carolina has finally fallen out of the top five in the U.S. for the 14-day average of new confirmed COVID-19 cases adjusted by population, but that rapid spread of the virus over the summer means the state’s death rate is now rising fast.

Only Arizona, Texas, California and Florida are seeing more than the rolling average of COVID-19 deaths in South Carolina.

July 13 was the first day with more than 30 COVID-19 deaths in the state since the pandemic began in March. Every day but one since where full data is available has had at least 30 people die, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

On Wednesday, state health officials announced 1,573 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total to nearly 84,000 since the beginning of the pandemic. State epidemiologist Linda Bell said an additional 52 deaths had been attributed to coronavirus, for a total of 1,505.

In an briefing, Gov. Henry McMaster urged municipalities to require masking, reiterating he wouldn’t do so statewide, and said that, as of Monday, all businesses previously closed to stem the virus’s spread would be allowed to open, as long as they adhere to capacity and social distance requirements laid out in a new executive order.

McMaster also said organizers of events like festivals, concerts and stadium attractions would be allowed to appeal to state Department of Commerce officials for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

“We want those things to happen,” he said, asked specifically about football games. “It’s a great part of American and South Carolina life, but we’ve got to do it safely.”

Health officials warn spikes could start again with Labor Day coming and large parties if college football starts back or for other sports. Some experts also worry the pause in the rapid spread of the virus may end next month as some students return to school.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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