New Mexico’s state fair this year was a triumph compared to the previous — when it was staged virtually — but was also emblematic of the latest stage of a pandemic still fomenting division months after the release of vaccines that were supposed to end it. https://t.co/zdoegkwEsQ
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 27, 2021
The tweet, and the full headline, could’ve been improved, but IMO this is an example of Doing Pandemic Reporting Well:
ALBUQUERQUE — Down from the New Mexico State Fair’s glittery midway, and past the stands selling funnel cakes and turkey legs, the barns that are typically packed with animals entered in the state’s premier youth livestock contest were quiet. Resting in pens were a sleepy pig and a few sheep there only for display, not awards.
About 200 miles southeast, hundreds of children instead gathered at a fairground with no rides and few spectators to show more than a thousand cows, pigs, sheep and goats in open-sided barns. It was an alternative livestock show quickly thrown together after families decided to boycott the state fair over a requirement that everyone over age 12 show proof of coronavirus vaccination, test or exemption to enter…
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced the mandate for the state fair three weeks before its opening day amid a delta-driven surge in hospitalizations.
Although the reliably blue state has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates, many of the youths who show livestock at the fair come from rural areas where rates are lower. When the state fair surveyed their families after the mandate was announced, the majority said they would not attend. New Mexico Republicans and the state cattle growers’ association called on the governor to rescind the mandate, saying it gave too little time for the unvaccinated to get shots, and one parent sued. A federal judge rejected the lawsuit.
“Vaccines have been available to New Mexicans at large since at least May,” Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said in an email. “To suppose that there was not ‘enough time’ — when that is not true — is to grant undue deference to those who for months have been refusing safe and effective vaccines and who are consequently prolonging this pandemic and endangering the lives and livelihoods of everyone in our state.”
The mandate, meanwhile, scrambled fair planning, general manager Dan Mourning said. The fair hired a consultant to train screeners to check vaccination cards and enlisted Navy ROTC members to help. It also contacted hundreds of vendors to ensure they were eligible to participate in the fair, with some dropping out at the news of the mandate.
With about a week to go, the fair canceled the livestock show and offered refunds to 425 people, ages 9 to 18, who had signed up to exhibit…
“We’ve had people cuss at us. Tell us to go F-ourselves. That it’s against their rights for us to be doing this,” said screener Sterling Utter, who in previous years had run the fair’s midway. “But I have six kids, all prematurely born, with weak immune systems. I’m for it. I want the safety.”
Inside the fair, a smaller-than-normal crowd rode the carousel, toured art exhibits and listened to live music amid the smoky-sweet aroma of sizzling meat and cotton candy. Several fairgoers said they were comforted knowing others there were vaccinated…
Baca said vaccine resistance was puzzling from a community that raises livestock. “I don’t get it,” said Baca, 36, a mechanic. “Don’t the farmers vaccinate their animals?”
They do, Michael Bennett said the next day, Sept. 16, at the fairgrounds in Roswell, where the New Mexico Youth Livestock Expo had sprung up to take the place of the state fair show. Bennett, a rancher, was there with his 16-year-old daughter, Callie, who was showing a 1,335-pound steer named Jimmy in hopes of winning a belt buckle, a banner and a chance to sell the bovine.
Bennett said he spends as much as $30,000 a year on vaccines for his cattle, giving him special insight into the value of immunization. He said he and his whole family have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, a disease he said he knew was dangerous.
But the fair’s rules on vaccination did not sit well with him. The mandate — coming just weeks before the fair and one of its highlights, the youth livestock circuit — was crushing for unvaccinated kids who spent hours a day for as long as a year raising their animals, he said. Like some others at the expo, Bennett said his family did not want to attend if everyone could not go…
Later, as the beef cattle competition came to an end in the dusty show ring, “The Final Countdown” by Europe played over loudspeakers. The judge, an agriculture professor brought in from Illinois, paused before announcing the winner.
“I don’t know what unfolded in the last few weeks, but I know this wasn’t the original plan,” he said. “You guys are fortunate that there was a group of people that said, ‘No way, we’re not going to throw in the towel. These kids are going to show.’ ”…
In Albuquerque, Mourning did not disagree. He said he felt sorry that kids were caught up in something that has become so political. The fair canceled its livestock show, he said, so they would not be forced to choose between events.
“The young men and women that have worked so hard for that deserve to have their show. They’re pawns in this,” he said, adding: “The state fair is for all New Mexicans. And we hope next year all New Mexicans can come back and enjoy the show.”