The coronavirus is still among us, it has not gone away. New cases continue to be diagnosed and new localized outbreaks continue to occur. Our sparse population (Warren Co. is the second least densely populated county in Indiana, Benton County is first) combined with shelter in place, quarantining and distancing have kept the number of covid cases in our community very low. We should not let this success lull us into a false sense of security. If we move forward with a 4-H fair but do so in a careless manner, it is possible that our small community could see a covid outbreak that is traceable to the fairgrounds. After much deliberation including consultation with health experts, we have decided to move forward with a restricted and modified 4H fair. We know this is not without risk but feel that if we proceed with an abundance of caution, we can provide our 4-H youth with a safe way to complete their projects.
We begin 4-H meetings by reciting the 4-H pledge. When we do this, we pledge our health to better living and our heads to clearer thinking. In the age of Covid, this pledge takes on new meaning as it is imperative that we make wise choices about our own health as well as the health of others around us. We know that our young people can often be contagious carriers without expressing symptoms. We also know that many of our 4-H parents, volunteers, guardians and grandparents as well as one of your extension educators are in Covid vulnerable age groups. This is a burden I wish our youth did not have to bear, but it is far better to embrace the hard truth than to discard reason and attempt to combat this pandemic with nothing more than wishful thinking.
By now, most of us are familiar with Governor Holcomb’s 5 Stage Back on Track Plan which draws heavily on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. According to this plan, if our county has graduated to stage 5 as of July 4th, we will be able to hold events with more than 250 attendees. This will not be business as usual. Our county fair will look much different than what we are accustomed to. First and foremost, we must maintain distance of at least six feet between individuals. This means that buildings on the fairgrounds, including the coliseum, will have maximum seating capacities. According to the governor’s plan, even in stage 5, face coverings are recommended. Purdue Extension is requiring all 4-Hers, 4-H volunteers and Purdue Extension employees to wear face coverings while executing their 4-H duties. This requirement has been put in place because there are times during 4-H events when distancing cannot be maintained. I realize face coverings can be hot and uncomfortable. I guarantee you there will be times during the fair that I will have to sneak away from the crowd and remove my mask to cool off and get some fresh air. This is acceptable. When you can effectively and reliably distance, then the face covering can come down. When prepping animals, waiting to enter the arena and while showing we need everyone to be wearing a face covering.
Over the past 3 months my mindset concerning Covid-19 has swung from one extreme to the other. At times I will go an entire day living my life like it was 2019, oblivious to the fact that things have changed. At other times I get paranoid and think every surface I touch and every item I pick up might be covered with the virus. The absurd thing about this is that all people who don’t seem to agree me on that particular day are fools. It is easy to get worn down from worrying about the pandemic. It can be tempting to give up and say “if the plague gets me, so be it”. Please, do not give up. We need to continue taking the needed precautions to keep the spread of this virus in check. This is a numbers game. We cannot play perfect defense. Most of us will eventually be exposed to the virus. We need to go from where we are today with perhaps 10% of the population having been exposed to a point where 70% of us have been exposed. The goal is to spread this exposure of our population over a long time period. This is what is meant by ‘flattening the curve’. I know we are all ready to return to normal. But, if we get selfish and sloppy in this return to normal, we risk creating a problem that overwhelms our medical professionals and healthcare facilities. I am asking all of you, regardless of whether you are a 4Her, to make a special effort this summer to think clearly. If one in a thousand of us are contagious and 250 of us get together at an event, there’s a 25% chance that one of us is contagious. If we practice distancing, sanitation and wear masks then we probably dodge the bullet. Same scenario but now, instead of taking precautions, we crowd into the bleachers, restrooms, holding pens, wash racks, food booths, you name it. We don’t wear face coverings. We have ‘in-your-face’ conversations. We hand out ribbons, use the same microphone, share show bills and writing utensils, basically behave like the coronavirus doesn’t exist- if we do that, then one contagious person could easily turn into a couple of dozen covid cases. Maybe a couple of these are severe and require hospitalization. Maybe one of these cases is asymptomatic and visits with their elderly or immune-compromised neighbor. I think you can see where I’m heading with this. If we are careless, the consequences could be regrettable. I trust that we will not be careless. Why would we be? We are humans. We are the ones with the big brains. We do not act on instinct and emotion alone. We can think. We can learn. We can figure things out.
What we are trying to do — hold a very limited fair to recognize the hard work of our 4-H youth in a safe and responsible manner is not an impossible mission. I know we can do this. What it will require is for everyone involved to lead by example. Adults can be examples for the kids. Our 4H teens can be examples for their parents. First year members can be an example for me. We can all be examples for one another of how to use our heads to think clearly and act in ways that protect our own health and the health of those around us. This will be contagious!