Faced with a summer spike in COVID-19 cases and rapidly shifting guidance on masking, organizers of Maine fairs and festivals are trying to carry on this year while being ready for changes at a moment’s notice.

Organizers of the Topsham Fair, which opened Tuesday, are expecting higher than usual attendance at the six-day event, which has attracted 25,000 to 30,000 people in recent years, said secretary Marie Brillant. Fair organizers feel people are eager to get out and have some summer fun after a year and a half of living in a pandemic, Brillant said. Topsham and all Maine fairs were canceled in 2020, though a few held virtual events.

But just because big crowds are back doesn’t mean it’s business as usual for fairs and festivals. Fair organizers have to watch COVID-19 case numbers in their counties and be ready to adjust their guidance to fairgoers accordingly. On Tuesday, Barry W. Norris, executive director of the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, said the 18 Maine agricultural fairs scheduled between now and October are all planning to open on schedule this year.

Maine is following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings where there is “substantial” transmission of the virus. When the Topsham Fair opened Tuesday, it was part of an area of  “moderate” transmission, so the only mask guidance from fair organizers was to encourage unvaccinated people to wear them. If transmission in Sagadahoc County, which includes Topsham, escalates during the run of the fair, that could change.

Mark Larrabee of Litchfield prepares Rip and Casey to be shown in the steer class at the Topsham Fair on Tuesday. The two animals, born in April, weigh a total of 730 pounds. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“We’re not forcing anyone to wear masks, but we’ll keep up with whatever changes there are,” in CDC recommendations, Brillant said Tuesday. “We’ve got masks (to give out) at the gates and 25 sanitizing stations.”

Brillant also said the fair will have signs throughout reminding people about the current CDC mask guidelines and suggesting that groups maintain social distancing, but don’t plan to enforce it. The fair only has one indoor exhibition hall, while all the other areas are outdoors, where transmission of COVID-19 has been found to be far less likely.


Few people wore masks in the first few hours of opening day of the Topsham Fair on Tuesday afternoon.

“I think we should be fine as long as we keep the distance and watch for people who might be sick or coughing,” said Breanna Miller, who attended so her kids could enjoy the fair before the school year begins.

Isabel Chabot, 11, left, and Lyra Ricciardone, 11, both of Bath, spin around on a ride at the Topsham Fair on Tuesday. Fair organizers are encouraging only unvaccinated people to wear masks, but that guidance could change if coronavirus transmission in Sagadahoc County, which includes Topsham, escalates during the run of the fair. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Several fair organizers interviewed Tuesday said they would make fairgoers aware of state and CDC guidelines about masking, which are currently only recommendations, but not force people to wear masks. The state’s mask mandate for most people was dropped in May and and all limits on crowd sizes and social distancing also were eliminated that month. But on Tuesday, the Maine CDC reported 360 new cases of COVID-19 over three days, bringing the seven-day average to 138. That is roughly seven times higher than the state’s weekly average a month ago and the highest level since late May.

Without any crowd limits, fairgoers will be allowed to pack into large exhibition halls. Norris said that people don’t usually linger next to the same people in an exhibition hall for very long, they way they might while watching an indoor concert.


Fair and festival organizers have been faced with uncertainty for a while now. In April, after many fairs and festivals had already announced they’d open this year, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Maine rose to more than 300.


Some of Maine’s summer festivals, focusing on food or music, have scaled back so organizers feel it is safe and comfortable for attendees. The 95th Annual Italian Bazaar at St. Peter’s Parish in Portland, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, won’t have any of its usual children’s games, to prevent people from having a lot of contact with others, especially considering children under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccines, said Deacon Luis Sanclemente, business administrator of the parish.

The bazaar also will be without its signature greased pole event, where teams of young people try to climb it and grab a banner from the top for cash prizes. Instead, this year, the focus will be squarely on Italian food and music from local bands. Not having games allows for more distance between dining tables and people, if they want, Sanclemente said. The whole event will be outdoors, on Federal Street in front of the church.

Ethan Pollis, 7, of Jay plays with an inflatable airplane that he won at the Topsham Fair on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The annual Summerfest in Scarborough, scheduled for Aug. 20, also will be scaled back this year. The free outdoor event will feature music from the group Plush, fireworks and food trucks, according to the town’s website. But there will be fewer vendors, no games and no bounce houses.

Fair and festival organizers say they are focusing on keeping people aware of guidelines and safety practices, while providing sanitizing and hand-washing stations. The Windsor Fair, scheduled Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, will be hosting a vaccination station and others may as well, Norris said.

At the Union Fair, scheduled for Aug. 21-28, organizers are not yet planning to mandate any kind of social distancing but will be watching for guideline changes from the state and federal CDCs, said Ron Hawes, the fair president. He wasn’t sure that social distancing could be maintained at some events, like the demolition derby.

The Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Festival in Litchfield, scheduled for Aug. 26-29, has already had a dry run. Organizers hosted the festival’s first installment in June with no restrictions. The event, which attracted about 2,000 people, went smoothly, said Sandy Cormier, who runs the festival with her family, and she’s hoping the August one will as well.

The event is completely outdoors and people bring their own chairs and blankets to sit on. At the June festival, people spread out on their own, and a few wore masks. Cormier is expecting even more people at the August event, because winter is coming and COVID cases are climbing, making the future of big outdoor events uncertain.

“The way things are looking and with winter coming, I think this might be a last hurrah for some people,” Cormier said.

Times Record Staff Writer Payal Gangishetti contributed to this report.

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