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The Big E is back this weekend with a mask mandate in place

Following a record-setting year in 2019 - which saw more than 1.6 million people - the largest fair in the Northeast had to take a backseat in 2020.

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass — After a year-long hiatus, The Big E is back in New England.

"It's almost an emotional thing, really, once you see everybody together," said Gene Cassidy, president and CEO of The Eastern States Exposition.

Following a record-setting year in 2019 - which saw more than 1.6 million people - the largest fair in the Northeast had to take a backseat in 2020. This time around, there are new protocols in place when it comes to having fewer vendors and making room on the fairgrounds.

"Especially where there's a lot of food, in order to create a little bit more space for people to be able to sit down," Cassidy said.

RELATED: The Big E announces a comeback for 2021

A last-minute change will go into effect on opening day. A late-day decision from the West Springfield Board of Health on Wednesday will require everyone to wear masks indoors. 

"Had we not planned so far in advance, we wouldn't have been able to respond," Cassidy said.

When COVID-19 numbers starting rising this summer, Cassidy anticipated something like this may happen.

"Starting about two weeks ago, we started ordering signage just in case. So that investment was very substantial," he said.

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They spent $17,000 on signs, now displayed throughout the fairgrounds. They'll be making announcements on the PA system, too.

"A great deal of the fair, as you know, takes place out of doors. So there is no outdoors mandate, but in the buildings, we will be asking people--there will be a great deal of signage--reminding people that they should have a mask on," Cassidy said.

RELATED: After two years The Big E readies a return; Expect fair food gone wild

And though the fair won't be the same as it was prior to the pandemic, Cassidy said getting everyone back to West Springfield makes it feel like the old days.

"Getting people back together, getting families back together to celebrate the American way of life, at a fair is a great way for us to start putting life back into perspective and getting back to normal," Cassidy said.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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