This year’s San Diego County Fair is still on, for now

An aerial view of a previous San Diego County Fair at sunset.
An aerial view of a previous San Diego County Fair at sunset.

The annual San Diego County Fair, which last year had more than 1.5 million visitors over its 27-day run, is still scheduled to start June 5 despite the growing COVID-19 crisis, officials said this week.

However, that could change at any time.

“We are on standby for the fairgrounds to be utilized for emergency operations services,” fairgrounds spokeswoman Annie Pierce said Tuesday, March 31.

“We’re also serving as a food distribution site for the San Diego Food Bank, have donated several hundred N95 masks to health providers, and ... we’re looking for ways to serve the community,” she said.

The Food Bank’s one-day emergency distribution Friday, April 3, at the fairgrounds will hand out 25-pound packages of food staples to 1,000 low-income and needy families.

The fairgrounds has stepped up to help in emergencies before.

Since 2003, the fairgrounds has worked with San Diego County to provide emergency shelter for large animals during wildfires. More than 3,000 animals, mostly horses, were evacuated to the fairgrounds stables during the 2007 fires. About 850 livestock animals were sent there during the 2017 Lilac fire.

The wildfires occurred when no large events were underway at the fairgrounds. However, social distancing requirements for the continuing coronavirus outbreak have forced cancellations or postponements of dozens of fairgrounds activities through April and some events in early May.

Fairgrounds officials announced March 13 that the Del Mar National Horse Show, previously set for April 14 to May 3, was canceled because of COVID-19. Held since 1946, the show offers $350,000 in prize money and draws 3,000 horse from around the world for western, dressage, and hunter-jumper competitions.

With COVID-19 cases increasing across the United States and much still unknown about the virus, June activities at the fairgrounds appear uncertain.

“If it is safe to do so, we’ll be here to hold it,” states an email from fairgrounds staffers.

“Gov. Newsom’s directives postponing mass gatherings have not extended through June, and for this reason we have not canceled or rescheduled the San Diego County Fair,” it says. “We will continue to work with the governor’s office and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to determine our future course of action.”

Cancellation of the fair would be a significant economic loss to the region. The fair provides about 2,500 temporary jobs during its run, and food revenue alone has been estimated at close to $20 million in recent years.

The state-owned fairgrounds is operated by the 22nd District Agricultural Association and overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the governor.

In addition to the fair, horse races and horse shows, the fairgrounds hosts hundreds of events each year.

-- Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune