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Families gather for a night of fun at the 2018 New Holland Farmers Fair. The 2020 fair has been canceled.

THE ISSUE

This year’s New Holland Farmers Fair, a street fair that’s been a tradition since 1927, has been canceled because of the coronavirus crisis. As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Chad Umble reported last week, “The New Holland Farmers Day Association, which organizes the annual fair, said health concerns complicated the ongoing planning and volunteer coordination for the four-day event set to begin Sept. 30.”

Fair season is part of what makes Lancaster County such a great place to live. But the organizers of the New Holland Farmers Fair acted responsibly in canceling what would have been the 89th annual fair.

They believed they had no choice but to cancel, given the public health crisis and the uncertainties ahead. Their decision deserves respect.

Some naysayers, of course, have weighed in.

“Beyond comprehension to cancel a fair over this hyped up fizzled out nonsense,” one person wrote on the LNP + LancasterOnline Facebook page.

“It’s the end of May and this happens the end of September? Really panic this early? What are you thinking?” wrote another.

COVID-19 has not been overhyped and, tragically, it has not fizzled out. We truly wish it had.

According to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, COVID-19 deaths surpassed the 100,000 threshold in the United States on Wednesday — a heartbreaking, unfathomable number of lives lost.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Lancaster County had 3,031 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — 46 additional cases over Tuesday’s total. Testing has increased in recent days, but not at the same rate as new cases. According to county Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, the county had seen 285 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The New York Times that the novel coronavirus is going to be with us for some time. “It’s going to be a matter of managing it over months to a couple of years,” he noted. “It’s not a matter of getting past the peak, as some people seem to believe.”

We’ll need to accept this reality, so we can move sensibly forward. Which means masking up when we’re in public, social distancing however and whenever we can, and avoiding large crowds for the foreseeable future — large crowds like the ones that generally turn out for the New Holland Farmers Fair.

COVID-19 has altered our landscape in bleak ways, shutting down the tourist industry here this spring — “the sixth-largest segment of the county economy for 10 weeks and counting,” as LNP | LancasterOnline’s Tim Mekeel and Chad Umble reported Sunday.

The Lancaster Chamber and Economic Development Company of Lancaster County have created an economy recovery plan to help businesses reopen safely.

But a farmers fair is a singular event and a massive undertaking. It requires months of intensive planning; the recruitment of volunteers; the engagement of vendors. It isn’t something that can be canceled, or organized, on short notice.

In addition to exhaustive organization, a fair requires fairgoers who are confident it’s safe to attend.

It’s hard to see how social distancing could be ensured at an event that draws crowds. How games and prizes and rides and stalls could be sufficiently sanitized throughout the event. How vendors could acquire the necessary protective supplies.

And even under the “green,” least-restrictive phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan, “large recreational gatherings” would remain restricted.

The organizers of the York State Fair decided the obstacles were “insurmountable.” They announced Wednesday that they are canceling that event — which had been slated to begin July 24 — for the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

For their part, the organizers of the New Holland Farmers Fair said in a news release that even if “current restrictions were lifted for the opening of the Fair, it would be extremely difficult to have complete assurance that all volunteers, vendors and spectators would attend.”

“While the entire Board of Directors was heartbroken to make this decision, they feel it is a safer and more conscientious decision to take this year to continue progress on infrastructure of the organization, planning, fund raising, volunteer recruitment and community building. ... (The) Board of Directors looks forward to seeing everyone in 2021, stronger and better than ever.”

This was indeed the “safer and more conscientious decision,” and we laud the fair organizers for making what was clearly a very tough call — especially without waiting to see what others might do.

This will leave a gaping hole on the calendar of New Holland residents.

As Umble reported, the fair — which features a parade, food vendors, rides and a tug-of-war competition — is “the marquee event for the New Holland area.”

In addition to its more modern attractions, it “still features the livestock shows and produce exhibits that were the main attractions in the early years,” Umble reported. It was held, he noted, “during the Great Depression of the 1930s but took a hiatus from 1941 to 1945 because of World War II.”

It’s a sad irony that at the very time we could benefit from the age-old joys offered by a farmers fair — funnel cakes, carnival games, a sheep show, a baby parade, delicious ham-and-cheese sandwiches from the local Lions Club — that we’re necessarily deprived of one.

COVID-19 has fizzled? If only.

Until it’s vanquished by a vaccine, we’re going to need to acknowledge its very unwelcome presence among us. We’re going to need to be sensible, put public health first, and work toward a safer, brighter future.

The organizers of the New Holland Farmers Fair are showing us how it’s done.