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Beshear Passes On Attending Fancy Farm Picnic, Cites Delta Variant Concerns

Andy Beshear, then the Kentucky Attorney General, at the Fancy Farm picnic in 2019.
Matt Markgraf
Andy Beshear, then the Kentucky Attorney General, at the Fancy Farm picnic in 2019.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman have declined an invitation to this year’s Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky, leaving the annual political speaking event with only Republican speakers.

A spokesperson for Beshear in a statement called the picnic a “great tradition” that the governor would attend in the future. The spokesperson said Beshear plans to instead be “with his family making up for opportunities lost during the pandemic,” while Coleman will be volunteering that weekend with family.

Fancy Farm Political Chairman Steven Elder said the declined invitation from the governor creates an unusual situation for organizers, with only Republican elected officials slated to speak at the picnic. Among the confirmed speakers are Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Congressman James Comer, Secretary of State Michael Adams, and State Auditor Mike Harmon, who announced his gubernatorial candidacy earlier this month. Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell have not confirmed their attendance yet.

“We’re talking within our committee, because Fancy Farm is not a partisan thing,” Elder said. “We want representation from both sides. So we're trying to figure out how to proceed forward after receiving the governor and lieutenant governor not coming.”

Beshear is also encouraging unvaccinated picnic attendees to get vaccinated, citing the “aggressive rise” of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the low vaccination rates in the region. State health data shows Graves County, where the Fancy Farm picnic is located, has 33% of residents vaccinated. Neighboring counties of Hickman, Carlisle, and Ballard have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, with less than 25% of residents in each county vaccinated.

Graves County Health Department Program Coordinator Riley Willett said the department is concerned the picnic could lead to an outbreak given current vaccination rates.

“An event like that could be a cluster event in terms of lots of people together. If somebody was to have COVID, it would be a good place to spread it there,” Willett said.

Willett said with there being no COVID-19 mandates, the department is urging those attending who are unvaccinated to wear masks. She said despite having gone to the picnic most of her life, she won’t be attending this year out of concern of potentially exposing her children who aren’t old enough yet to receive a vaccine.

“They're all crammed in there and shouting and yelling,” she said. “Just great risk for exposure there, you know, and definitely want to try to prevent that if we can.”

The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the annual picnic last year, and organizers decided earlier this year to move forward with this year’s event. Elder said picnic organizers plan to follow all COVID-19 recommendations, with the possibility of having more hand washing stations available at the picnic site. Elder also floated the possibility of having a vaccine clinic set up at the picnic.

Elder encouraged attendees of the picnic to get vaccinated, having been vaccinated himself. He said his father has been on a ventilator for several months due to COVID-19, and that the vaccine is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I want us to be safe. But I don't want to continue to not have things when we have a vaccine that can really help everybody in the community,” Elder said.

Copyright 2021 WKMS

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."