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Organizers still making plans for county fair

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The Chaves County 4-H and FFA Fair is tentatively planned to go on as scheduled, with some alterations for health and safety, for July 26 to Aug. 1.

Larry Hobson, president of the fair board, said the decision to go ahead with the fair during the COVID-19 pandemic was not taken lightly, even though what health orders might be in place at that time are not known.

The fair board submitted a plan to the New Mexico Department of Health more than a month ago with procedural options that include social distancing and other coronavirus-safe practices.

“We take all these things the governor initiated to heart. We don’t take these things lightly and more importantly, we do not want to be a cause to spread the disease or anything of that nature. And so we’re going to take these precautions and move forward,” he said.

The rabbit show is the only exception, as it has been canceled due to another virus. Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 has been detected in wild and domestic rabbits in 17 New Mexico counties including Chaves, according to the New Mexico Livestock Board. It has also been confirmed in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California and Mexico.

“We’re not even going to attempt to have a rabbit show. I hate it for those young people, but we’ve told them well in advance what to expect,” Hobson said.

The board has not heard from the health department on whether or not the plans have received approval, but Hobson said the fair board is moving forward.

“We haven’t heard word one. We’re still two months out. I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t predict the future, but I want to be ready for it. And so, as of right now, today, we’re going to have a county fair,” he said Friday.

Plan A is for the fair to be conducted as scheduled while taking precautions. Sanitizing stations will be available and social distancing guidelines will be observed, he said. The junior livestock show will be conducted with social distancing enforced.

“We have a lot of room so we’re not going to be penning animals right close to one another. They’ll be spaced out,” he said.

Parents will have the ultimate decision on whether or not their children participate or wear face coverings.

“I’m leaving it up to the parents to be parents, and whatever they decide, then I’m fine with that. There’s no judgment one way or the other,” he said.

Hobson anticipates there will be plenty of space at the fairgrounds even if the Do Portugal Circus is still sheltering there. The family-owned circus arrived in Roswell on March 9 but was closed down before its first show by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order declaring a health emergency.

The Eastern New Mexico State Fair board, of which Hobson is also president, is allowing the circus to stay at the fairgrounds until it is able to perform and travel again.

“We do not have the heart to move them because they don’t have a place to go,” he said.

The county fair board leases the fairgrounds from the Eastern New Mexico State Fair board and does not use the parking area where the circus tent and trucks are set up, Hobson said.

Should health orders not allow the county fair to be conducted as normal, Plan B is for a livestock “show and go,” Hobson said.

“They bring them in the day they’re going to show and then take them home immediately afterward,” he said.

“If we do a Plan B, there won’t be a sale. It’ll be a premium and we’ll try to raise money. What will qualify for a premium is exactly how they would have ended up at the sale,” Hobson said.

Fair officials will be keeping their eye on Chaves County’s COVID-19 case numbers and will go to Plan C — canceling the fair — if there’s a surge, Hobson said. But he’s hopeful it won’t come to that, given the low number of cases here.

“These kids have been confined for so long, and these kids are wanting to do something,” he said.

“These young people have already invested their time and money and these animals that they’ve purchased before all this started. And then I have the general exhibits that those young people have been working on at home on and I would like to display them,” he said.

The Eastern New Mexico State Fair is still being planned as well, Hobson said. The fair board has kept its grounds manager and grounds employee on the payroll to keep the buildings and grounds maintained despite having no rental income since March, Hobson said.

“The Eastern New Mexico State Fair, we’re a nonprofit. We depend on rentals and the (county) fair for our income, and since March, we’re at zero. I don’t want to release any of my help. They’ve been with me a long time,” he said.

The buildings are often rented for quinceañaras, weddings and business meetings.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.