West Side’s Biggest Attraction Proceeds Despite Pandemic

Ingrid Rainville , Contributing Reporter

 Since the last day of 2019’s Eastern States Exposition fair, 719 days passed before the 2021 reopening this September. Not only was our state absent of the rides, food, and experiences that the fair provided, but other issues like the multi-million dollar revenue the town has annually received for decades was suddenly gone.

While it’s impressive how fast our community has come together in the reopening of the world, there are still concerns among the staff and students of WSHS in regards to this year’s fair specifically. Was the Delta variant taken into account in the planning of the Big E? Did people actually apply the indoor mask mandate? And most importantly, was the decision of reopening the fair for the 2021 season a good idea?

In the Big E’s opening year in 1917, their attendance records started out at around 138,000 people. The total of this year’s fair came to 1,498,774 people. Hosted primarily to celebrate the New England states, as that is where most of the Big E’s guests travel from. The fair has only ever been interrupted by two World Wars and, more recently in 2020, a global pandemic. On June 15 of 2021, the announcement was made by Gene Cassidy, president of the Eastern States Exposition, that the Big E would reopen for its 2021 season on the dates Sep. 17 – Oct. 3.

Hampden County, at the time of the reopening’s announcement, had a 42% vaccination rate. Roughly 58% of Massachusetts was vaccinated at the time, and New England was about 65% vaccinated. Two weeks later, in late June, 2021, the Delta variant of COVID-19 took the USA by storm. By the end of June, the Delta variant accounted for over 99% of Covid cases, believed to be more than twice as contagious as previous variants of the virus. That being said, the revenue the Big E produced for its 2016 season was $15.9 million with expenses totaling nearly $13.5 million. 719 days passed between the 2019 and 2021 season, and the town of West Springfield saw over a dozen million dollars pass over their heads that, Delta or not, was unlikely to see gone a second year in a row.

Through a survey WSHS students and staff opted to take came a wide variety of answers to the question “Did you go to the Big E this year? Why or why not?” Those in the WSHS marching band performed in the parade on West Side Day. Many students volunteered at the Big E, some even had jobs at vendors. Mainly, however, students that answered saying they did attend, which was the vast majority, gave reason that they wanted to make the most of the free entrance pass that students are given on West Side Day. Along with the free pass they’re given, many students mentioned the fair being a great way to spend time with their friends, a venture that they did not get to pursue last year.

Sophomore Liam Gearing sat down with us to talk about his experience attending the Big E on West Side Day. The September indoor mask mandate for West Springfield began on September 17, 2021, opening day of the Big E. The following Monday, West Side Day, the Big E hosted 57,257 attendees. When asked his thoughts on the only Covid restrictions present at the fair, Liam revealed that the indoor mask mandate was not strictly enforced when he attended for West Side Day.

Though Liam would’ve prefe

Attendance was high as the Big E returned to West Side for the first time since 2019.

rably had a stricter policy on masks indoors, he recognizes that the Big E is mostly outside, where the virus is harder to transmit. As a double vaccinated teen who spent all of his afternoon at the fair outdoors, he didn’t feel too uncomfortable. Liam himself forgot to bring a mask with him to the Big E, so he didn’t go in any of the buildings that afternoon. When asked if he thought that the town decided correctly in reopening the fair this year, Liam was indifferent. “Safety is obviously important,” Liam reported. With Delta numbers rising, he felt conflicted to answer with the emotional benefits of this year’s Big E. “The fair is good emotionally,” Liam said, again, a luxury people haven’t been able to experience since 2019. Liam also pointed out that vaccines are being offered at the Big E itself.

Mr. Andrew Bell, an art teacher at WSHS, shared his thoughts on the fair. Prior to this year, Bell reported to attending the Big E about once every three years, as he’s not a West Springfield resident and finds the individual years at the fair a bit repetitive.

Because of the rising Delta cases, the area’s vaccination rate, and the numerous cities and states that people travel from for the fair, Mr. Bell did not attend this year’s Big E. As a teacher in a school with about 1,2000 students and a vaccination rate in the 50 percentile, Bell felt it was his responsibility to limit the chances that he should attend the Big E, get Covid-19, and pass it on to a student. Should that student be high risk or be in contact with someone of high risk, Bell would feel tremendously awful having the credit of being the origin of that transaction.

When asked if he thought the town decided correctly in reopening the fair this year, Bell, too, was able to answer for two different ideals. First, Bell recognizes that the decision to reopen the fair was made before Delta became the most highly infectious variant of the Coronavirus. At that time in June, optimism was raining down on everyone with the vaccine and the world was starting to remember what normal felt like. The variant was unexpected, unwanted, and, when it did come, extremely unfortunate. However, as a public school art teacher, he also recognizes that this fair is a huge source of tax revenue for the town of West Springfield. With West Springfield Public Schools as his employer, Bell felt a bit more comfortable with the stability of his and other art positions in town when the decision to reopen the Big E was made.

West Springfield High School has proven to have many different students and staff with many different opinions. Though some students feel strongly and certainly about their thoughts on the fair this year, many do not see their experiences at the Big E in simple black and white. Regardless of the political aspect of it, with the year we’ve had, we all deserve a day at the fair.