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The Big Fresno Fair: Carnival Rides, Fast Food – And Fewer ER Visits

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Big Fresno Fair
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To the estimated half a million visitors it attracts each year, the Big Fresno Fair is synonymous with carnival rides, fried food, and horse racing. But to hospitals, the fair means something completely different: fewer visits to the emergency room.

Joyce Eden, director of emergency services at Saint Agnes Medical Center, says she was recently talking about it with a colleague. “I said ‘watch it for the next two weeks, my numbers will be lower for the next couple weeks,’” she says. “And so far they have been.”

Eden says ER visits decrease noticeably every year during the fair, a trend confirmed by an emergency physician at Community Regional Medical Center. Eden estimates Saint Agnes’s ER visits fall by around 15 percent.

As to why, Eden can only speculate, but she suspects it has to do with the fact that many people use ERs for their primary care, coming in with flare-ups in chronic ailments like diabetes and kidney disease.

But they’ll drop everything—even health care—to go to the fair. “I have observed grandma or grandpa assisted out of the car, not able to stand, put in a wheelchair, and following them comes the oxygen tank and oxygen tubing,” Eden says. “The extent that people go to to get their loved ones to the fair is just phenomenal to me.”

But then, after the fair closes its doors, Eden says she sees a spike in visits as all those funnel cakes, cotton candy burritos and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto baked potatoes catch up with people. “We anticipate after the fair is done, we’re going to see some fairly sick people coming in to get what I call ‘tuned up,’” she says.

Have fun at the fair, Eden says, but be careful if you’ve got fragile health.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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