Gov. DeSantis in attendance as Clay County Fair opens at full capacity

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. — More than a year after being forced to cancel the event in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clay County Fair is back.

Hundreds of people were there for the opening ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It’s the first major full-capacity event in northeast Florida since the pandemic.

Several attendees told Action News Jax they had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to attend such an event after months of being impacted by COVID-19.

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“Have fun in the outdoors a little bit, you know? Do something different,” said Guillermo Zayas. “After being locked up for so long.”

“I feel a little bit of freedom now, like I’m an American again,” said Kyle Rivers.

“After the year we’ve that we’ve had, this is much needed,” said LaMarcus Payne.

Organizers tell Action News Jax the fair has increased hand sanitizing stations and said masks are encouraged but not required.

Attendees also spoke to Action News Jax about their comfort levels at such a large event.

“We’re trying to keep our distance as much as possible,” said Jason Betz. “We’re kind of intimidated with going in some of the buildings.”

“I feel comfortable being out here. I mean, most people are following the guidelines,” said Payne.

The fair association, emergency management, and the Clay County Health Department worked together to offer walk-up vaccinations until 7 p.m. each day.

“Those individuals that maybe haven’t been able to make an appointment, or it just wasn’t on their radar,” said Clay County’s health officer, Heather Huffman. “[The fair’s vaccination site is] located near the first aid station within the fairgrounds — over towards the pig racing area.”

A county spokesperson told Action News Jax that 41 people were vaccinated on day one of the fair.

County leaders are expecting large crowds and increased traffic in the area.

“I think we’re going to see crowds like we haven’t seen before,” said Clay Emergency Management Director John Ward. “People have been cooped up for a while; the fair canceled last year. So I think we’re going to start to see a lot of crowds that are going to be coming into this.”

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook spoke to Action News Jax shortly after the gates opened.

“This is my first fair as sheriff. But interestingly enough, I attended the first several years when the fair first opened,” said Cook. “So it’s good to be back home and good to be the sheriff here in Clay County.”

Cook said they’ve worked closely with the Fair Association to ensure attendees have fun as safely as possible.

“We’ve put together an incident management team that consists of members from all the stakeholders that are involved in putting the fair together,” said Cook. “And what we’ve been doing for the last couple of months is planning for traffic, planning for pedestrians, planning for safety, and working contingency plans in case of an emergency.”

Fair manager, Tasha Hyder, said it took months of planning to make the event possible amid the pandemic.

“We’ve had a lot of hurdles that we’ve had to overcome,” said Hyder. “A lot of our suppliers didn’t have inventory to give us that we’re used to getting. Employees, a lot of our vendors are short-staffed. But I feel good about it. I think everyone’s going to have the customer serviced that they’re expecting of us here at the Clay County Fair.”

Among the hundreds in attendance were Gov. Ron DeSantis and his family.

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Action News Jax spoke to DeSantis about Florida’s vaccine rollout. Starting Monday, people 16 and up are eligible to be vaccinated.

“So if you want to get the vaccine, we have retail sites, drive-thru sites, all these different sites. We encourage you to get it,” said DeSantis.

The fair is open through April 11.