HARRISBURG, Pa. — The post-holiday surge of the Omicron variant is leading Pennsylvania to its highest number of daily COVID-19 case counts since the pandemic started nearly two years ago. Despite that, as the 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show gets ready to return to an in-person, indoor event, the state's Department of Agriculture says masks and vaccines will remain optional for this year's attendees.
Saying it falls within the department's desired message of "personal choice," Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding maintained safety precautions are in place to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus at this year's show.
Redding also urged visitors to use their own discretion, and if they're uncomfortable about attending, to stay home.
"For individuals who are concerned about their personal health or have family members or colleagues who are particularly vulnerable, this is not the year to attend," Redding said.
The 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show runs from Jan. 8-15 at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Redding says the annual favorite exhibits and shows are back, including the Calving Corner, Sheep-To-Shawl competition, butter sculpture, and the food court, which opens Friday, Jan. 7.
Due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, one of the more popular food stands opted out of the 2022 show. The PennAg vendor decided to avoid this year's event because of health factors, an expected rise in cases, and a staffing shortage. It said it normally uses 400 people to staff its food stand, which offers a variety of chicken tenders, pulled pork, and chocolate products.
No other food court vendors, at this time, have dropped out of the event.
Redding said that in an effort to decrease the potential spread of the virus at the Farm Show, there will be five sanitizing stations set up throughout the complex, and on transport buses, with free hand sanitizer and masks for anyone who wants them.
The Department of Agriculture, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, is also urging everyone to be vaccinated and boosted, although that won't be mandated to attend. Those who wish to get their vaccine shot or booster shot can do so at a DOH-sponsored COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinic, located in the Main Hall.
"There’s no screening here," Redding said. "The screening is before you arrive. Ask yourself the question, 'Do you want to be here? Is this a risk you want to assume?'”
He also indicated a $21 million grant was used to help improve the complex's H-VAC system, and walkways were widened from 10-to-15 feet to allow for greater airflow and ventilation.