ALTAMONT – Effingham County Fair officials waited as long as they could before officially canceling most of this year’s fair activities. Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic with some states seeing an increase in cases, the fair board announced Thursday there won’t be a traditional county fair this year.

“We’ve been talking a long time about some of our options,” said Effingham County Fair Board President Phil Hartke. “And we didn’t want to be a part of the problem. We didn’t want to be that event that caused the COVID-19 virus to spread.”

Hartke said the two major queen contests are still planned, though there will be changes.

“We did make the commitment to go ahead with the Miss and Junior Miss pageant,” Hartke said. “And we can do that with a limited number of people.”

“All of the other grandstand events have been canceled,” Hartke said.

The director of the Miss and Junior Miss pageant event, Shelly Beckman, said preparations are underway for the event with six Miss Effingham County Fair and 17 Junior Miss Effingham County contestants. She said the deadline to enter both contests has past.

“We started practice in the first part of June,” Beckman said. “They are going to be able to take away interview skills and communications skills in general.”

“It’s been a difficult year because of the COVID,” Beckman said. “And I’m very proud of the girls who decided to stick with it.”

Beckman said the Little Miss Effingham County Fair is under another director and will not be held this year.

“The date is up in the air right now because the board wants to have both pageants on the night,” Beckman said. “So, at this point we have to figure out who we can get for judges and for what night.”

Hartke said they would adhere to the social distancing guidelines and would be live streaming the event on Facebook.

“We talked about doing some live streaming at the fair,” Hartke said. “And we felt this would be a good chance to test that system out.”

“This way we can get some experience under our belt live streaming since we canceled everything else,” Hartke said. “We’ll find out what works and doesn’t work.”

Hartke said if the live streaming is a success there is the possibility they would offer streaming next year with a subscription price.

“This year we are streaming the queen contests at no cost,” Harked added. “This is a good time to try out something new.”

Harke said a queen pageant committee will decide the date of the two contests.

“It’s up to the committee to make a final decision on what day,” Hartke said.

Hartke said due to the limits of how many people can gather in one place, they may have the two contests about two hours apart. They are still exploring the guidelines and whether or not it the crowd will be limited to 50 people or 20 percent grandstand capacity.

“It’s up to the insurance companies as to how many people we can have attending an event to meet the liability requirements,” Hartke said. “Right now we are using the smallest number, which is 50.”

“It seems like things change everyday with these rules,” Hartke added. “I don’t think there is a day goes by that there is a new rule we have to abide by.”

Effingham County Health Department Administrator Jeff Workman said. fair board consulted with local health officials many times about having the fair.

“Given the widespread increase in cases throughout the country, I do think they made the appropriate and civically responsible decision,” Workman said.

Hartke said that in addition to the crowd restrictions, he is concerned about the health of children who attend the fair.

“I do know that it’s frustrating,” Hartke said. “But we don’t want to be the cause of these schools not opening.”

Harke is optimistic about next year’s fair. He said this year’s musical entertainment booked for this year are scheduled to appear next year.

“We have a commitment from Tracy Lawrence and Neal McCoy for next year’s fair,” Hartke said.

The 2021 Effingham County Fair is scheduled for July 31 through Aug. 7.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

Reporter/Videographer

Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.

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