The city of Hattiesburg held its annual Pine Belt Fair from Nov. 6 to Nov. 15. Even though the pandemic is not over, many citizens of Hattiesburg were excited to attend.
I attended the Pine Belt Fair on Nov. 12 and wasn’t sure what to expect. The fair was outside the Forrest County Multipurpose Center, so it was allowed to have a slightly larger crowd. But COVID-19 supposedly remained a top concern for fair organizers. The Pine Belt Fair’s official website claimed to “strictly enforce” social distancing rules, including mandatory masks and temperature checks, to keep everyone safe.
Pulling into the parking lot, two things immediately stood out to me. The fair was right next to the Forrest County Jail — I guess so the inmates could also experience the fun. But, more importantly, there was an obvious lack of COVID-19 precautions put into place.
Outside of the fair, only one lady checked the temperatures of people that randomly walked past her. Only a few people waiting in line for tickets wore masks, and even fewer stood six feet apart. Even before stepping out of my car, I knew the COVID-19 rate would increase in Hattiesburg because of the Pine Belt Fair.
Things didn’t improve once I entered the fair. People manning locally owned booths or carnival games did not wear masks. The employees manning the rides were not sanitizing after every ride. Maskless children and adults were stacked like sardines while waiting in line for food. While waiting in line for food, I saw the man at the window wipe his nose before touching someone else’s food.
I was disgusted by the lack of sanitary guidelines in place, and how the Pine Belt Fair failed to enforce any of the COVID-19 guidelines. Instead of hiring extra employees to make sure people constantly sanitized their hands or kept on their masks, they just randomly placed a bunch of signs or hand sanitizing stations around. I never saw anyone get into trouble for not following the guidelines. Did the City of Hattiesburg think that people would follow guidelines without them being enforced?
Despite all of this, there were some good parts to the Pine Belt Fair. The weather made it easy to walk around in. There were a lot of great attractions, too, including a petting zoo, a viewing of white tigers and a circus act.
My personal favorite attraction was a show starring Lady Houdini. Lady Houdini is an escape artist who tours the country with her husband Kevin Ridgeway. She performed two stunts during the show I went to. The first one had her escape from a straitjacket while hanging from a rope by her feet. The second saw her handcuffed and trapped in a water torture chamber. My jaw dropped once Lady Houdini forced open the chamber’s lid, having watched her force her way out of multiple handcuffs before her breath ran out. The boys in the crowd clearly had a great time while watching, and I hope the girls were inspired by her confidence and strength.
The pandemic has been going on for nine months. People are tired of spending quarantine in their homes, and the Pine Belt Fair served as a mini escape. However, we must remember that the pandemic still isn’t over and still abide by COVID-19 guidelines.