DALLAS — Big Tex is getting ready to say "Howdy, folks!" to thousands of visitors at the State Fair of Texas. That's the plan, for now.
WFAA asked State Fair officials and vendors what the plan is to keep guests safe as cases of COVID and hospitalizations surge in North Texas, especially at children's hospitals.
State Fair on masks
First things first, State Fair officials say to bring a mask! You will be asked at the gates if you have it, and masks will be required at all indoor facilities.
Masks will be available at all the gates hospitality centers and guest relations centers.
Masks will be also required on DART by federal regulations if you plan on taking it to the fair.
But officials said, fully vaccinated people are not required to wear a mask outdoors. People who are not vaccinated are "strongly encouraged" to wear a mask. Proof of vaccination will not be required.
President/CEO Stephen Love of the DFW Hospital Council told WFAA that North Texas hospitals continue to experience this "very serious fourth surge throughout North Texas."
Love encouraged people to get vaccinated, wear a mask (vaccinated or not) and conduct meetings virtually for "at least the short term (30-45 days) rather than potential spreader in-person events like annual meetings or in-person events."
A State Fair spokesperson said that the health and safety of everyone is "always the State Fair's priority."
"The State Fair of Texas team is working hard to ensure a safe environment for everyone during the Fair this year, so when you are ready to celebrate all things Texan this fall, Big Tex will be here to welcome you back," said spokesperson Karissa Condoianis in a statement Tuesday.
One noticeable difference: Big Tex will not be wearing a face mask as he did in 2020.
The State Fair will have more than 500 hand sanitizer stations and said all its employees are vaccinated, including its most famous one.
"He is fully vaccinated, stands outdoors all 24 days of the State Fair, and at 55-feet-tall, will be socially distanced from other fairgoers and fellow Tex Team members," Condoianis explained.
Condoianis said fair officials are constantly in conversations and evaluating the latest guidance and protocols from the national, state and local levels.
"Additionally, we encourage people who are eligible to get vaccinated," Condoianis said.
Vendors on COVID precautions
State Fair officials said every vendor is required to have hand sanitizer at their booth.
Vendors like Fletcher’s Corny Dogs say they’re glad to be back for the State Fair of Texas.
”It’s going to be great just to see people having fun. It’s been a long time you know," said CEO Aaron Fletcher.
While there is excitement, vendors said they’re also cautious with COVID cases on the rise.
Cassy Jones whose fried collard greens are hugely popular said she’s taking extra precautions.
"I’m requiring all my employees wear mask and use gloves for everything and social distance as much as possible," said Jones.
Fletchers is doing the same doing the same thing and encouraging vaccinations.
"You know, of course, we’d love if everybody got vaccinated, but you know that’s not something we can do ourselves," said Fletcher.
State Fair staff are fully vaccinated and vendors are encouraged to be vaccinated.
Dallas County will have a vaccination hub set up behind Big Tex for all 24 days of the Fair. There will be an incentive of $20 in State Fair food and ride coupons to those who are eligible to get the vaccine.
The State Fair said that an "inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place regardless of precautions that may be taken."
"By entering the fairgrounds, you voluntarily assume all risks, hazards and dangers related to exposure/contracting COVID-19, and voluntarily waive all claims and suits against the State Fair of Texas," the fair said.
State Fair officials said this year their launching the State Fair Safety Team to work with Dallas police. The team will consist of former law enforcement officers.
Officials are also warning attendees to lock their vehicles and to take photos of their children in case of separation.
Permitless carry is not allowed at the state fair, officials said.