Hawaii County Fair hiatus to continue through this year

  • In this 2018 Tribune-Herald file photo, youths ride Pharaoh’s Fury during the 67th Annual Hawaii County Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium grounds in Hilo.

When the 71st Annual Hawaii County Fair finally happens, hopefully in September 2022, it will be a scaled back version of what it has been in the past, according to the fair’s main organizer.

“Having two years off, that really limits the amount of money that we have to play with as far as starting up an event. So it’s going to take gradual phases to get us up to where we were pre-COVID,” said Kelton Chang, president of the Hawaii County Fair Foundation, who on Wednesday announced the fair has been canceled for a second year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Chang listed a number of concerns forcing this year’s cancellation, such as the ongoing state and county emergency mandates preventing larger-scale events from occurring, and the fact that E.K. Fernandez Shows — the Oahu company that operates the rides and carnival midway — hasn’t operated in more than a year.

He also noted that less than half of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

“We’re nowhere near opening up for large events, such as ours,” he said. “To put on an event of that magnitude, you need a lot of hands and, of course, with this pandemic volunteers are very scarce.

“I want everyone to be safe. Right now we’re only at 49% (of people vaccinated) in the state. I want those numbers to rise. We would have to be at about 75% vaccinated before I would even imagine opening up an event.”

The main constituencies of the annual fair are families, teens and young adults — and those younger than 18 are just starting to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

“With all our protocol concerns, it’s our kuleana to safely open events that will not add additional clusters or create a backwards tier level effects on our economy. Our local residents and businesses have already sacrificed enough,” Chang said.

The fair was scheduled for Sept. 16-19 this year, and if the past is any indication, Chang and his committee are also shooting for mid-September 2022 to have the fair, “but it all depends on how the county’s Parks and Rec are going to do their scheduling. We need the entire (Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium) complex.”

He noted if the Merrie Monarch Festival — which moved from the week starting Easter Sunday to June 24-26 this year — decides to remain with the same schedule next year, it could affect the fair’s timing, as well.

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“I’m hopeful we can get the support we need from the community and get enough people vaccinated so we can move forward in 2022,” Chang said. “Hopefully, we can continue to open up slowly and actually return to some kind of normalcy.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.