MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials on Tuesday said they’re nervous about the large crowds expected at the Minnesota State Fair as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to circulate statewide.

During a Tuesday media briefing, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters “I think the honest answer to that is yes” when asked if the fair’s crowds are a cause for concern amid the virus case growth driven by the delta variant. Minnesota State Fair officials last week strongly urged fairgoers to wear masks indoors and outdoors while attending the fair, which opens on Thursday, but they declined to require mask wearing, proof of vaccination or negative tests.

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“Any large events with lots of people, whether those are family celebrations or large public gatherings, do pose a risk with this much virus circulating around,” Malcolm said. “Based on what we’ve seen in other communities with large events and even here in Minnesota, we of course are concerned but we believe that people have the information to make good choices.”

The Minnesota State Fair in 2019 (credit: CBS)

Malcolm said fair officials have been receptive to state health officials’ recommendations and will employ mitigation efforts that include signage recommending masking, offering vaccinations to attendees and encouraging those at higher risk to consider skipping the fair this year.

All regions of the state are now above state officials’ high risk threshold of 10 new cases per 100,000 residents, Malcolm said, and 98% of Minnesota counties are within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s high transmission category, where indoor masking in public spaces is recommended.

READ MORE: Minnesota State Fair 2021 Final Attendance: 1.3M, Far Below 2019 Record

About 547 people statewide are hospitalized for complications due to COVID-19 — up from 434 individuals last week and less than 100 about a month ago.

Vaccination rates have leveled off in recent weeks after seeing a bump over the last month that coincided with Gov. Tim Walz’s $100 vaccine incentive program. Nearly 80,000 Minnesotans who have received their first dose since July 30 signed up for the reward, which nearly doubled the seven-day average for first doses administered a month ago to nearly 5,000 doses a day.

Just over 71% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one dose as of Sunday, and the 12-to-15 population with at least one dose eclipsed the 50% mark over the weekend.

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