The Grand Forks County Commission has approved the reopening of the County Fairgrounds, with some restrictions.

The move to reopen the fairgrounds effectively repeals a vote made early in the pandemic to shutter the location in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The commission’s unanimous vote, taken at a special meeting on Thursday, March 11, will allow the grounds to reopen at 80% of capacity for all indoor and outdoor events, provided the Grand Forks County Health Officer’s Dashboard, a tool created to track the spread of the illness, remains in the “green,” or low-risk, level. Masks will still be required, and are a condition of reopening.

Some commissioners, however, offered a note of caution, should the coronavirus aggressively reassert itself in the county.

“It seems like each participant out there needs to have some sort of an alternative plan, if things would go in some other way than we anticipate,” said Commissioner Tom Falck.

Ultimately, Falck said he supports the motion to reopen the fairgrounds, but that stakeholders there need to be flexible and be aware that the changes in the virus situation could result in changes at the fairgrounds. Participants will need to update safety plans and provide sanitizing stations.

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“I think if they can do that or present a plan to it, it's fairly simple: We move forward,” Falck said.

The fairgrounds are owned by Grand Forks County, and commissioners have the authority to alter attendance levels or cancel events should coronavirus numbers rise.

At present, the county is trending in a positive direction, concerning both the coronavirus and the number of people being vaccinated against it. On Thursday, the North Dakota Department of Health reported an additional nine coronavirus cases in the county, for a total between 10 and 49 active cases. The state’s vaccine dashboard showed that 11.7% of county residents have received the required two doses of vaccine.

Commission Chairperson Cynthia Pic said the county’s institutional partners have indicated it will take until late summer to vaccinate 60% of the population, the number needed to reach herd immunity.

Representatives of River Cities Speedway, the largest drawing entity at the fairgrounds, told the commission they are fine with the 80% capacity limit, even though World of Outlaw car races sometimes draw beyond that threshold.

Mark Landa, secretary for the County Fair Board of Directors, said he doesn't believe the County Fair reaches 80% of capacity, though he said that figure is difficult to determine. Still, Landa said work is being done to accommodate the pandemic situation, including adding portable bathrooms, sanitizing stations and separating the fairground’s entrances and exits to eliminate bottlenecks of people in close contact with one another.