URBANA — The Beach Boys, a beer pavilion and a demolition derby? Yes, yes and yes.
COVID-19 vaccinations? Not at the Champaign County Fair.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District asked if it could offer COVID-19 vaccinations at the recently ended county fair, but the offer was declined, according to health district Administrator Julie Pryde.
“We had even offered to pay a vendor fee, like a food truck,” she said.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said she was angry to hear the offer of COVID-19 vaccinations at the fair was declined, and she called the decision “unconscionable.”
She and Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen wrote to fair board President Bill Alagna in mid-July, urging the decision be reconsidered, but didn’t get a response, Marlin said.
“This event attracts thousands of visitors from the region. County and state fairs have been shown to be excellent venues in which to provide the vaccine to those who may have challenges accessing it,” the mayors wrote in a joint letter. “Achieving widespread vaccination is the only way that we will fully emerge from the pandemic, protect the health of our communities and the integrity of our health care system.”
Alagna told The News-Gazette there wouldn’t have been room for COVID-19 vaccinations, though Pryde said it would have taken very little space.
“Our grounds are full and chaotic, and we don’t have any spare room or any spare time to do that during our fair,” Alagna said.
Would he have wanted COVID-19 vaccinations at the fair if there was room?
“Probably not, because that’s not the business we’re in,” Alagna said. “We’re in the county fair business.”
H.D. Brown, treasurer of the local fair board, said he knew nothing about the health district’s request to offer vaccinations at the county fair.
The Illinois Department of Public Health will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations at multiple locations at the state fair, set for Aug. 12-22, in hope of reaching unvaccinated people, spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
Vaccinations were also being made available at some other county fairs in the state, among them the McLean County Fair, which begins Wednesday.
Sangamon County Department of Public Health Director Gail O’Neill said her department offered vaccines at the Sangamon County Fair in June and got 55 people vaccinated.
“It doesn’t sound huge, but it’s a good number,” she said.
What can’t be quantified is the impact of free admission to the fair for anyone showing proof of vaccination, O’Neill said, but there was an upswing in vaccinations in advance of the fair after that was announced.
The county refunded the $10 cost of admission to those who got their vaccines while they were at the fair, she said.
Pryde said her agency was willing to “do anything” to work with Champaign County Fair officials to help boost vaccinations.
“Free food tickets, free ride tickets, a big raffle — they were not interested,” she said.
Meanwhile, the health district on Monday announced the 160th COVID-19 death in Champaign County, a man in his 80s. It was the third such death in the county since last Wednesday.
The county had 417 active COVID-19 cases Monday — 13 more than Sunday and 60 more than Friday — and 13 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19.
Carle Health reported Monday it was caring for 54 COVID-19 patients throughout its system, 38 of whom were at Carle Foundation Hospital. Of those, 10 were in intensive care.
For the week ended July 31, Carle said 9.06 percent of the COVID-19 tests it processed were positive.
As of Monday, just under 49.8 percent of Champaign County’s population has been fully vaccinated.