Fewer 4-H'ers staying overnight at state fairgrounds amid COVID-19 concerns

Greta Steinhaggen, 18, is planning to show her cow, Little Red, at the Minnesota State Fair as part of 4-H. (FOX 9)

In order to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19 at the Minnesota State Fair, the 4-H program is making big adjustments, especially for those who normally stay overnight at the fairgrounds.

Greta Steinhaggen, 18, is looking forward to showing off her cow Little Red at this year's state fair.

"I’ve been going to the state fair since I was a 6th grader," said Greta.

Her 16-year-old sister Martha will be bringing her goat, Sandy.

This year instead of the excitement of leaving their Belle Plaine dairy farm for several days, for the first time they won’t be staying on the fairgrounds in the 4-H building with other young livestock owners.

"We are going to have to be driving, every single day and that is going to be tough because you can’t always be there if your animal needs you," said Martha.

4-H organizers are reducing the number of 4-H youth staying overnight on the fairgrounds from 800 down to less than 200 or about 25%. Plus, there’s room for another 1,400 to temporarily move into the dorms at the University of Minnesota.

In either case, masks will be required for 4-H'ers, chaperones, and anyone spending the night. Each will have to sign a form confirming they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, tested negative within 72 hours or tested positive for COVID within the previous 90 days.

"So we are not requiring proof of that, but asking they acknowledge that before they come in," said Becky Harrington, the 4-H director of operations. "Really another piece of our mitigation strategy package to try and reduce the virus coming into a housing situation."

Across the state, 4-H families are coordinating day trips, hotel rooms, and various options to get to the fair they missed so much last year.

"Some counties have been coordinating buses, might start really early in the day and we are flexing our judging schedule to be able to accommodate them," said Harrington.

Each year an average of 6,000 4-H'ers come from all over Minnesota to the state fair and that includes young farmers to general projects. This year, it’s too early to know how the numbers will be impacted because the registration begins Thursday.

The Steinhaggen sisters will miss the fun of a four-day sleepover at the fair, but are happy to make other arraignments if it means at least a couple other young farmers even further from the metro won’t have to miss out completely.  

"We are staying off campus and leaving the dorms for people who really, really need to be on site," said Greta.