CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The State Fair of West Virginia has been canceled due to a coronavirus outbreak in the county where the event was set to take place, organizers said Thursday.
The fair’s board of directors, which last week had voted to move ahead with the event, said an unfolding virus flareup linked to a church in Greenbrier County has caused them to reverse course and scrap the festival for the first time since World War II.
“After speaking with local and state health officials as well as community leaders, it is a hard decision, but it is the right decision,” a statement from the fair read. In an interview, state fair CEO Kelly Collins called the move “heartbreaking.”
The cancellation comes after at least 33 coronavirus cases have been tied to Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg, the same city where the fair had been scheduled to be held Aug. 13-22. The local health department says additional tests are still pending.
Last week, Republican Gov. Jim Justice had praised the fair’s board for its decision to hold the event, saying organizers and health officials would implement sufficient safety protocols. The fair draws thousands of visitors each year.
Kent Leonhardt, commissioner of the state agriculture department, issued a statement saying he understands the decision but called it disappointing.
“The fair brings an economic boost to the region, is a showcase for our in-state producers and a vital part of our agricultural education,” Leonhardt said. “We will surely miss it this year.”
The fair’s statement said its board voted Tuesday to cancel the event. Organizers are working to reschedule concerts to August 2021 and will allow ticket holders the option to attend next year or receive refunds.