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Fresno Hmong New Year returns with extra COVID safety precautions

Vendors began setting up their tent on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the festival Thursday.

Hmong New Year celebrations are back again at the Fresno Fairgrounds after the pandemic forced the landmark festival to cancel for the first time last year.

Vendors pitched tents and loaded merchandise at the Fresno Fairgrounds Tuesday. The event will run from Thursday, Dec. 30 to Sunday, Jan. 2. It will feature traditional food, live music, cultural and modern dance competitions and the Miss Hmong USA Pageant.

“We are the largest Hmong New Year that happens in the United States. So, this one’s definitely been anticipated,” said Mai Kerr Thao, board treasurer of the Hmong Cultural New Year Celebration, the group organizing the festival.

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Merchandise waiting to be set up at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

Thao said the event was shortened from its usual seven days to four days due to a safety recommendation from the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

“We don’t expect as much of a crowd as we normally would in a seven day event, especially with COVID being a factor as well. We expect that our numbers will be drastically different than they normally are,” Thao said. It’s estimated that 100,000 people typically attend the weeklong celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds every year.

Another safety adjustment this year will be fewer booths, including food vendors. Instead, there will be more space for walkways and social distancing. All vendors and patrons will be required to wear masks. Hand sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the fairgrounds.

In addition, there will be less contact sports: no football, soccer or traditional games. Only volleyball will be played this year. Also new this year, Kaiser has partnered with The Fresno Center to offer free COVID vaccines inside the Commerce Building for anyone who’s ready for a shot.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with over 16 years of experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.