Think Out Loud

Oregon State Fair is a test of new outdoor mask mandate

By Julie Sabatier (OPB)
Aug. 30, 2021 10:34 p.m. Updated: Sept. 7, 2021 9:53 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Aug. 31

The Oregon State Fair doesn't have enough room for all the animals shown over 10 days its in operation, so livestock is rotated about seven times.

A file photo of a pig looking out of its pen at the 2015 Oregon State Fair.

Lizzy Duffy / OPB


The Oregon State Fair opened on Friday, the same day the statewide outdoor mask mandate took effect. While the fair is requiring vendors and security staff to mask up, it’s unclear exactly how the mandate is being enforced for the general public. Marion County, where the state fair takes place, reported 528 new COVID cases over the weekend. We hear from Marion County commissioner and chair of the Oregon State Fair Council Board Kevin Cameron.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: The Oregon State Fair opened on Friday with rides and livestock and competitive table setting and fried everything just in time for the state’s return to an outdoor mask mandate. It means that everyone is required to wear masks while at the fair this year. The fair typically attracts as many as 350,000 people over the course of two weeks. But something like half the people this year are walking around maskless. Meanwhile, Marion County is in the middle of its worst surge since the start of the pandemic.

Kevin Cameron joins us to talk about all of this. He is a Marion County commissioner and he’s the Chair of the Oregon State Fair Council Board. Good to have you on the show, Kevin Cameron.

So you attended the fair over the weekend. What did you observe in terms of mask compliance?

Kevin Cameron: Well, I was there Friday evening and Sunday afternoon and Friday evening. Well, I would say probably 75% of the people had a mask on. Obviously, it was cooler. Those who were eating or drinking obviously did not. But then on Sunday afternoon, I went with my grandson and my daughter and her husband and there were a lot less people donning masks because of the heat. It was 80-85 degrees plus. But then in some of the more crowded areas you’d see people put their masks on. Obviously, we wore our masks because that’s what we’re supposed to do, except when we were licking the ice cream that day.

Miller: When you say a lot fewer people during the heat of Sunday, down from an estimated 70% on Friday night, what’s your best guess?

Cameron: I’d probably [say] half walking around [maskless] at that point in time, anecdotally. It has been a challenge, as we all know. This statewide mandate came the day of the fair opening and we actually got the banners and posters all changed. I think that the governor called on Tuesday or Wednesday to let us know what was going to happen. So we had to make some changes really quickly to educate people who were going.

Miller: How does enforcement work at the fair?

Cameron: Well, that’s a good question, Dave. It’s not really being enforced. I think what’s happening is the staff are doing the best they can and enforcing it upon the vendors and the people that are under their control. People have written many, many comments that they are disappointed. The challenge is trying to enforce it because you have security companies that are private security companies and then you have the State Police and they’re really a challenge. We had these meetings before Friday saying, hey, how are we going to handle this? Because it could cause some outbreaks, and not just necessarily Covid outbreaks, but physical contact that people are really up in arms about; both sides of this view.

Miller: Has that happened? I mean, have there been altercations because of this or are you saying that because of fear of implications, there has been really no enforcement right now?


Cameron: Nothing that I’m aware of. There have been people that have been very angry and vocal. Staff is letting me know about that. Our staff is very tired and they’re working hard to try to keep things going. [I’m] just making sure we’re all leading by example and that’s what I’m saying to staff, to the State Police to do that. The director has reached out to OSHA and they drafted a letter to all the vendors to give them a warning to say, hey, this is an important issue that all your employees are wearing this mask. So I think we’re getting a better operation with the vendors that are in the building or outside preparing food.

Miller: Because there really is more of a threat in terms of State action or fines from OSHA? We did reach out to the Fair to ask them about the Covid masking policy and they wrote a statement including this.

“We remind people as they enter the fair to keep their masks on. We provide masks to those who forgot their own. And we have staff who walk through the fair asking anyone unmasked and not eating or drinking something to put their masks back on.”

But just to be clear, if somebody walks up to the entrance today without a mask, is offered one and declines, it seems like they are still allowed to walk in and go about their day. Is that a fair way to put it?

Cameron: That’s a pretty good observation. I’d say that’s probably what’s happening based on there [being] no enforcement mechanism.

Miller: How do you feel about that as both the Chair of the Oregon State Fair Council Board and as a member of the Marion County Board of Commissioners?

Cameron: Well, as the Chair of the Oregon State Fair Council Board, I talked to Kim, the director, probably for a half-hour yesterday. People are really struggling with this. The issue is, some people are not going to feel comfortable coming to the fair this year. You’ve got to protect yourself. And if you have any kind of other issues going on and you don’t feel good about it, I would suggest that you self-isolate. I told Kim, I don’t know what else we can do. Unless you bring in pretty good security forces at every gate to really clamp down on this thing.

We all know that we’ve been dealing with this thing for 18 months and people come at this from both directions. So as the Marion County Commissioner, I’m concerned. Obviously, as the local health authority, I am concerned about the number of cases that we continue to see. We get daily reports from our Health Department. We had 188 cases reported this morning. Two of those people went to the hospital today. We’re concerned about the hospital. So I, personally, I’m wearing a mask. I personally got vaccinated on camera at one of our board sessions trying to encourage people. But one thing I think we all know is elected officials right now are not necessarily the right people to send this message. It is about our healthcare professionals and seeking the doctor’s advice [about] what’s right for you and to make sure that you’re making the right choice for you and your family members. Wearing a mask is not that big a deal. I mean, I put a seat belt on every day when I get in my car. So for me, it’s not that big of an issue.

Miller: You can say that, but obviously, as you’ve just been describing, it has become a hugely politicized and divisive issue in this country, nevertheless. As you were talking, I was thinking about rides at the fair and remembering that early on in the pandemic, a year and a half ago, I heard about a Japanese amusement park where attendees were told to scream with their mouths closed. I don’t imagine that there are those signs in Salem right now.

Cameron: Well, I didn’t go over to the rides. I started to [go] with my grandson the other day and, again, it was just one of those things where I walked in there and said, “You know. Let’s just not go in there. It’s hot and there’s too many people.” So, no. There aren’t any signs that say: Scream with your mouth closed.

Miller: It nevertheless seems like a perennial phrase of good advice for the last year and a half. Well, let’s move on. You mentioned the county already has high case numbers. How concerned are you right now, based on what you’re seeing yourself and hearing about at the fair, that the already high case numbers are going to rise specifically because of the State Fair?

Cameron: Well, I really don’t know. I am concerned about any kind of rise in cases obviously. Most activities are outdoors and that helps. There are [ways] people can distance [themselves] so that helps. I was asked if Marion County was going to [issue an] outdoor face mask mandate. My response to that was that people are coming to the Oregon State Fair not just from Marion County, [but] from all around the state. Being able to trace back to where outbreaks are happening is obviously a difficult thing and people need to make sure that if they have symptoms then they get tested, and if they are positive, then they call those [people who] they were with during the right periods of time. We have to start doing self-reporting on this and self-isolation to get this thing down. I will say this. This variant is peaking and from the modeling that was done by OHSU, it should start to come back down by mid-September. That’s what they’re hoping for. We’ll see what happens come September 6th. The fair will be over. Watch 10 days from then. In the next 14, 20 days, we’ll be able to see how many, if there are any, cases that are traced back to the fair.

Miller: Kevin Cameron, thanks very much for joining us today. That’s Kevin Cameron, Chair of the Oregon State Fair Council Board and a Marion County commissioner and our crack producers have told me that I misremembered the exact phrasing from the Japanese amusement park. It was not: Scream with your mouth closed. It was even more poetic and terrifying. It was: Scream inside your heart.

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