Big E may cause a spike of Massachusetts Covid cases


Alina Fairlie, Herald Story Writer

The Big E, scheduled to be held from September 17 through October 3 of 2021, has proven to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in Western Massachusetts. With the return of the fair next month and growing Delta Variant cases, a discussion around possible mask mandates has arisen. 


In 2020, the Big E was cancelled due to the pandemic. However, in 2019, the fair brought in 1.6 million visitors, which has been the average number in previous years. Sales this year are said to rise by 80% from 2019. Despite this large increase, ticket prices will remain the same. 


This year, the Big E claims to be following the health guidelines set by the Town of West Springfield and Massachusetts, which do not require masks to be worn for fully vaccinated people. This is subject to change as opening day looms closer. Some workers worry that a mask mandate will affect attendance and believe it should be left completely up to the guests. The article “West Springfield officials to consider Big E mask mandate” quotes restaurant owner Rick Locke, who has concerns about his business running a booth in the fair. “Over the past few months, the mask mandates were lifted so they have to go back to that again. I think it will hurt attendance big-time,” Locke stated.


Masks are highly encouraged for unvaccinated people. Events will be held both indoors and outdoors, and food, shopping, rides and exhibits are included in the lineup. The entire fair will be held at full capacity. 


Massachusetts has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, but this may not protect against the newest strain of the virus. The fair will inevitably lead to crowded, small areas and lack of masks due to the biggest attraction: food. The CDC states that the coronavirus can remain in the air for a few hours. Realistically, masks will not be worn for a good portion of the fair, even if a mandate is put in place. The entire event may be incredibly dangerous for unvaccinated people, or people with weakened immune systems. New England has been doing well with vaccination rates, but a large portion of the population cannot get vaccinated. Children 12 and under are not eligible for the vaccine at this point. Many attractions at the Big E are designed for kids since they have always been a big part of the fair attendance. 


The Board of Health will hold a public hearing deciding if a mask mandate should be put in place at the Big E. This could require masks to be worn at events indoors as well as larger outdoor events. Some fair vendors believe this will hurt their business and it is likely that they will be required to wear masks when working. Other precautions, like pedestrian foot traffic implementations inside state fair buildings, will be put in place. Gene Cassidy, the fair CEO, says “There’s going to be roughly 10% more space on the fairgrounds as we have tried to space things out a little bit.” Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the guests to practice social distancing. 


Other aspects of the Big E have been hurt by the virus. Every year, they bring in artists to perform, and this year, the band Modern English was scheduled as part of their tour. This tour was completely canceled due to COVID concerns. Other performances scheduled include Machine Gun Kelly and Billy Idol.


While safety and health is a main priority at the Big E, people are anxious to get back to normal, hence the rise in ticket sales. The fair largely supports the economy and local businesses, mostly hotels and restaurants. Cancellations last year left many employees struggling financially.


As stated earlier, workers are experiencing anxiety and it is likely that fairgoers will feel the same way. The outcome of this event is relatively unpredictable. People attending may be cautious around crowds, or feel confident in public health practices. 


Overall, everyone should be cautious around this potential superspreader event. Be sure to be on the lookout for updates from the Board of Health in the coming days before Opening Night on September 17.