Hot tubs are at the NC State Fair, but Legionnaires’ disease precautions are in place

Officials at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh say they have taken steps to make sure fairgoers are safe from Legionnaires’ disease, a lung ailment that has killed four people who attended the N.C. Mountain State Fair last month.

A total of 141 people are known to have been infected during the outbreak, with 94 of them hospitalized.

An investigation by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services linked the outbreak to a hot tub display during the last five days of the mountain fair.

N.C. State Fair manager Kent Yelverton told The News & Observer on Monday that fair officials in Raleigh have worked with state and county health departments about what should be done before and during the fair to keep everyone safe.

For starters, the water distribution system at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh was flushed, Yelverton said.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services created a guidance document for temporary exhibits. That information was distributed to vendors. Those same state officials were supplied with a vendor list for the fair and they contacted exhibitors they identified as being of interest, and met with them.

“They are doing repeat visits to watch what’s going on at some exhibits,” Yelverton said.

A hot tub display at the NC State Fair in Raleigh on October 18, 2019. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

With a hot tub display potentially at the center of the Legionnaires outbreak at the mountain fair near Asheville, there is an understandable focus on hot tubs at the Raleigh fair. The hot tub vendor near the SkyGazer Ferris wheel at the N.C. State Fair — Choice Pool & Spa out of Wake Forest — has had at least one hot tub filled with water and in operation during the fair, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 27.

Yelverton said his staff has consulted with the vendor to make sure its setup is safe.

“We reached out to them to ask them what they felt, considering what had occurred, and the vendor felt comfortable that following guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and the disinfection they do at shows, they felt confident in proceeding,” Yelverton said.

An eye on severe weather

Tuesday could be an ugly day for fairgoers, with potentially severe weather hitting central and Eastern North Carolina between noon and 8 p.m.

Yelverton said fair officials are keeping an eye on the storm.

“We have a lot of people watching that system and monitoring what it might bring to the fairground, and the timing of when all that might occur. If there is a potential for winds and it looks like there is a risk for projectiles, we’d look at small items to start with, like securing trash cans and small tents.”

Yelverton said large tents have a high wind rating. For rides, which are inspected by the N.C. Department of Labor, the wind rating is determined by the manufacturer and they are built to withstand high winds.

For example, the new SkyGazer Ferris wheel — the largest traveling Ferris wheel in the U.S., at 155 feet tall and weighing 400,000 pounds — has an operating speed designed for 33 mile-per-hour winds, Yelverton said. It is designed to withstand winds of 120 miles per hour.

If there’s an emergency that requires fairgoers to get in out of the elements quickly, Yelverton said they have a large number of public safety personnel on site, including members of the Wake County Sheriff’s Department.

“If we needed to get our fairgoers inside our larger buildings, we would,” Yelverton said.

Was there a shuttle bus snafu on Saturday?

There were rumblings on social media Saturday about long waits for the free shuttle services from park-and-ride lots near the fairgrounds.

Yelverton said there were no breakdowns or problems, just high demand.

“We had a very busy day, and while we had a lot of shuttles on the road and our Highway Patrol and DOT partners worked with us to determine the best routes, when you’ve got that many vehicles on the road, those buses will be delayed too.”

Yelverton said attendance at the fair Saturday was 111,438 and that on Sunday, which was rainy, attendance was 68,000 (numbers do not reflect advance ticket sales).

Yelverton said attendance numbers so far are “on par” with other years.

How to attend the fair

The N.C. State Fair is at the fairgrounds at 1025 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh. Gates open at 8 a.m. but exhibit halls generally open at 9 a.m. and rides at 10 a.m. The fair closes at 11 p.m. every night except for Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s open until midnight.

Tickets cost $13 for adults 13-64 and $7 for ages 6-12. Members of the military can purchase a ticket for $8 at the gate.

And Thursday, Oct. 24, is Food Lion Hunger Relief Day. Bring six cans of food for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and admission is free.

To avoid the parking fees, try the free shuttle from the corner of Edwards Mill Road and Reedy Creek Road. There is also free parking and a shuttle service from Carter-Finley Stadium. GoRaleigh also offers rides to the fair, with a round trip ticket costing $5.

Get more details about everything fair related at ncstatefair.org.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.