SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — The Illinois State Fair officially kicks off Thursday afternoon with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and the annual Twilight Parade.
State officials previewed the big return after last year’s event was canceled due to the Coronavirus.
“This is one of the great attractions that I think we all missed,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Wednesday.
Some familiar pandemic precautions will be in place, such as indoor mask requirements, and vaccination tents. Fair staff will request proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test within the last three days from people seeking admission to the grandstand or standing room only areas where large crowds will gather for concerts.
The governor and First Lady, M.K. Pritzker, helped unveil the 2021 butter cow, an 800-pound sculpture which serves as the unofficial trademark of the State Fair.
Kelsi Kessler, the 2020-21 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen, called the butter cow unveiling an “utter delight.”
Strong dairy pun delivery from 2020-21 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Kelsi Kessler. Bold move to take a risk like that with no notes on such a large stage. Very little margarine for error. pic.twitter.com/atrpoCTes9— Mark Maxwell (@MarkMaxwellTV) August 11, 2021
“I got to experience the fair with my grandfather who came here as a young boy with his 4-H tractor pulls,” she said, “so just really seeing from him how the fair has changed over the years has been one of my favorite things to see.”
One of the mainstays that hasn’t changed over the years is the Vose’s Corn Dog stand.
“We’re on our fourth generation,” Kelsie Vose said of her family’s iconic state fair staple. She said she is looking forward to crowds coming back to the fairgrounds after last year’s no-show.
“It was all we’ve known my whole life,” she said, “so to not have it, it hurt.”
The Illinois National Guard converted the Orr Building on the state fairgrounds into a mass vaccination site earlier this spring. Now as groundskeepers prepare to open the fair gates, vaccine tents promoting cash incentives for people who get their shot are located in between stands where vendors sell elephant ears, cotton candy and lemon shake-ups.
“We’ll have six different sites on the fairgrounds where you can get a vaccination,” Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello said. “We highly encourage people to get vaccinated.”
Despite lingering concerns about the Delta variant of the Coronavirus, Costello said other county fair events have drawn big crowds so far this year, and he expects a big turnout in Springfield.
“I think people do want to get out and we hope that they do it safely,” he said. “We encourage people to wear masks and get vaccinated.”
The state fair will require concert goers to wear a mask in crowded areas like the grandstand and standing room only areas. In addition to showing gatekeepers a ticket for admission, concertgoers will also have to show a negative Covid-19 test from the last 72 hours or proof of vaccination.
The Illinois Department of Public Health partnered with Experian, the credit agency, to launch a new vaccination verification dashboard the day before the fair opening. Third parties will be able to access the web portal to verify a customer’s identity and vaccination status. The questionnaire asks users to submit their social security number and other personal information, though state officials said they would not see those details.
“We use Experian via a soft inquiry to confirm the user’s identity,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold explained in an email. “We do not see the inquiry and there is no impact to your credit score.”
“We’ve got a significant effort to make sure that the information is secure,” Governor Pritzker said.
“I hope to see many of you out here at the fairgrounds and especially for our official opening of the 2021 state fair and the Twilight Parade,” he said.
Soon, other third parties like businesses and event centers can use the state’s new vaccination dashboard to verify that you have your shots.
“As more businesses, events, organizations, and others require proof of vaccination, Illinois residents will be able to confirm using Vax Verify that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a press release. “With the current surge in cases, more people are making the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine and this new tool will aid residents in confirming their vaccination where needed.”