NY State Fair is open — what are the rules?

David Robinson
New York State Team

The New York State Fair opened last Friday, Aug. 20, at full capacity with various COVID-19 restrictions, potentially drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the Syracuse area as coronavirus cases surge nationally.

After a hiatus last year, the 2021 fair is scheduled to run through Monday, Sept. 6, featuring hundreds of food and entertainment vendors, as well as more than 70 concert performers

But mounting concerns about the highly contagious delta variant has prompted some 11th-hour changes to plans for the fair, including Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon announcing an indoor mask mandate for all fair buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

Further, the list of other COVID safety precautions includes cashless ticket sales and parking fees to limit close contact, as well as vaccination and testing sites available for patrons and fair workers.  

Thousands of people attended the opening day of the 2019 New York State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

During an Au. 17 media briefing, McMahon struck a cautiously optimistic tone that local and state authorities have taken all necessary steps to open the sprawling fairgrounds as safely as possible. 

"We’re learning to live with the virus," he said, reeling off the COVID safety protocols.

Yet, like most statements during the pandemic, the full-steam ahead 2021 fair plan is subject to change, in particular if COVID-19 outbreaks are linked to the fairgrounds.

"If (health officials) can bring us contact-tracing data on day seven or day eight of the fair and say 'look what happened here,' then I think we’ve got to look at what the data’s telling us and what we can do to address the situation," McMahon said.

In 2019, the state fair set an attendance record at more than 1.3 million during a 13-day span. The 2021 fair is set to run 18 days, but it's unclear if the added days could overcome COVID-19 concerns in helping the event potentially breaking the attendance record.

Meanwhile, a growing list of concert venues and other festivals across the country are imposing new COVID restrictions, including mandatory vaccination for entry, or canceling events altogether due to the delta variant's rapidly evolving risk

Will NY State Fair require masks, vaccinations?

Crowds wander through the Great New York State Fair as the first day comes to a close on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

In addition to fair's new universal indoor mask mandate for ages 2 and above, it will follow state guidance requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in all public places, despite the rule historically relying upon the honor system.

Authorities will not require proof of vaccination for fairgoers or workers, but organizers have "encouraged" unvaccinated staff, contractors and vendors to be tested before opening day.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that the 2021 fair is as safe as possible. We’ve all waited two years to enjoy the fair and the safety of fairgoers is our number one priority,” Fair Director Troy Waffner said in a statement Aug. 16.

Will NY State Fair offer vaccinations, tests?

A Rochester resident receives a Johnson and Johnson vaccine at a mobile site in Jones Square Park.

The fair will offer rapid COVID-19 tests and single-shot vaccinations free of charge to any fairgoer. They will be available in the Art & Home Center from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be offered, along with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for those needing their second shot, the fair noted. A separate testing site will be run for fair workers. 

Onondaga County officials Aug. 17 also noted local health officials are collaborating with the state Department of Health on contact-tracing efforts that will span the entire state, as well as out-of-state visitors.

Meanwhile, 40 of the 62 counties in New York state were already at the highest level of COVID-19 community spread on Aug. 17 based on a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention system launched last month.

Other COVID-19 safety precautions include offering hand sanitizer and masks at Guest Services booths, as well as spacing Midway rides and vendors more widely than prior years.

Organizers also noted they plan to sanitize and deep-clean high traffic areas and surfaces.

Can people smoke marijuana?

A fairgoer holds up her loaded chili cheese fries at the Great New York State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

McMahon voiced concerns Aug. 17 about marijuana smokers lighting up at the 2021 fair now that the state legalized recreational marijuana earlier this year.

"I don’t think it’s a good idea ... it's not my call but certainly you won’t see me getting high at the New York State Fair," he said.

Despite marijuana's new legal status in New York, the state fair prohibits smoking of any substance in any building or under cover.

The fair also bans smoking in any of the picnic areas; within the confines of Kiddieland; the Midway; the grassy area of Chevy Court; at the Veterans and 9/11 Memorials; or within the State Park at the Fair.

Smoking is permitted on the Fairgrounds in other general areas that are not prohibited by state law, the fair website notes. Under state law passed earlier this year, smoking marijuana is now legal in most public areas where tobacco use is permitted.

What are NYS Fair ticket, parking prices?

The sun sets after opening day at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019.

Admission tickets are $3 and parking is $5, but there will be no cash sales at the fair’s entrance gates or in parking lots to limit close contact. Ages 65 and above or 12 and younger get free admission.

Tickets and $5 vouchers for parking are available online at Etix.com, or by calling Etix toll-free at 1-800-514-3849 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

With fees added, each admission ticket is $3.18 and each parking voucher is $5.23. Up to 20 tickets can be purchased.

Kiosks will also be available at the fair gates 1 and 10 for self-service use to purchase admission tickets. 

Drivers can pay for parking by credit card in each lot or by EZPass Plus in the fair’s Orange and Brown lots. EZ Pass Plus is a free add-on to EZ Pass that allows it to be used to pay for parking in addition to highway tolls.

Large signs with QR codes will be at all gates so patrons can use their phones to link directly to the ticket purchase site.

What's closed at the 2021 fair?

The 2019 Great New York State Fair in Syracuse runs Wednesday, Aug. 21 through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2.

In addition to the COVID-related rules, the 2021 fair has lost several iconic vendors, including Tully's Good Times and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, amid workforce struggles. 

Some competitions and buildings will also be closed or not taking place, including the Youth Building and youth livestock shows.

The Witter Agricultural and Carriage museums will also be closed.

The Art & Home Center will be open, but the Demonstration Kitchen and Empire Theater will be closed, and the quilting competition will not take place.

A few other competitions such as the culinary competition, will also not take place, while the majority will be back for 2021. Organizers have also touted the robust list of vendors still signed up for this year, despite the big-name departures.

For further details about COVID, tickets, buildings and vendors, visit the 2021 NYS Fair website at nysfair.ny.gov.

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached atdrobinson@gannett.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud