Whitfield County will miss an old friend this fall.
The annual Prater's Mill Country Fair has become the county's signature event, drawing exhibitors, artisans and attendees from all over the South. Amid a backdrop of the historic grist mill and signs of autumn all around, the Prater's Mill area near Varnell teems with activity during the fair's two days in October. The event celebrating the music, food and culture of North Georgia and the Appalachian region routinely draws about 8,000 visitors annually.
But like many events in our lives -- from church outings to attending Major League Baseball games to game nights with friends -- Prater's Mill has been canceled this year, taken out by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This will be the first time in 49 years Whitfield County has not hosted the Prater's Mill Country Fair.
Not only does the fair impact our local tourism industry, scores of artists, craftsmen and craftswomen, vendors, nonprofits and organizations rely on money generated from the two-day event to help them throughout the entire year.
"It was a hard decision," Prater's Mill Foundation President Melanie Millican Chapman told this newspaper. "We kept hoping things would get better. But they haven't. And we just don't think we can do it and follow CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines."
A hard decision, but the right decision. Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, and large gatherings can aid in the virus' spread, fair officials had no choice but to cancel the festival.
One of the CDC's main recommendations is social distance. That's not easy to do at a packed fair that has so many built-in attractions that are personal -- watching a blacksmith in action, getting a front row seat to watch the cloggers, speaking to an artist about his or her inspiration for work of art.
COVID-19 has sidelined many of our favorite local events: the Off the Rails summer concert series at Burr Performing Arts Park that brings thousands to downtown Dalton; the educational Chief Vann House Days; and the informative reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Tunnel Hill, among others.
We empathize with all of you who have lost loved ones and friends to COVID-19, or those who have had their live impacted by the nefarious virus -- whether that be physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc. There seems to be a never-ending parade of grim news pertaining to the virus. We wonder when life will get back to normal.
That's why it's more important than ever to follow those CDC guidelines to help stop the virus from spreading:
• Wash your hands often.
• Avoid close contact.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.
• Cover coughs and sneezes.
• Clean and disinfect.
• Monitor your health daily.
If we remain diligent and true to these guidelines, we can help tamp down the spread of COVID-19.