People looking at exhibit

Fairgoers attending The Big E will be required to wear a mask indoors, according to a West Springfield Board of Health mandate that goes into effect Friday, the day the fair opens. 

The Board of Health in West Springfield has approved an indoor mask mandate that takes effect the same day as the opening, for the first time in two years, of what's billed as the largest agricultural fair on the East Coast.

The mask mandate starts Friday, the first day of The Big E, a more than 100-year-old multistate fair that typically attracts about 1.6 million visitors over its 17-day run. Last year's fair was canceled because of the pandemic.

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“While I understand that there are many viewpoints on this, as a physician, I do feel that the science on this is fairly clear,” board member Dr. Nathan Somers said at Wednesday's virtual meeting. “Vaccines, social distancing, contact tracing and masking are effective at slowing the progress and the spread of this virus.”

The mandate requires face coverings in all indoor public places, as well as private places open to the public, regardless of vaccination status, for everyone ages 2 and older.

Board Chair Dr. Heather Sankey stressed that the fair was not being targeted, but that the masking rules apply to all businesses and events.

West Springfield is in Hampden County, which is last in the state for COVID-19 vaccinations, according to state data.

Several people at the meeting spoke against a mask mandate, saying it would hurt their businesses.

The Big E, which features agricultural exhibitions, a midway, concerts, food vendors and more, has both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Fair organizers had been anticipating a mask mandate, Big E President and CEO Eugene Cassidy told The Associated Press on Thursday.

“We actually had started preparing for this a couple of weeks ago," he said.

The fair is putting up more signage reminding people about the mask requirement and staff will be giving "gentle reminders" to people not complying, he said.

He's also counting on the goodwill of attendees.

“Hopefully, the fair-going public is used to these mandates and protocols and will respond in a positive way," he said.