Minnesota State Fair attendance Thursday was less than half what it was two years ago, as rain and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic made for an unusual opening day after a yearlong hiatus.

Just 61,983 people attended the 2021 fair's opening day, which normally draws upward of 100,000 visitors, according to attendance records. The most recent fair, in 2019, set an opening day record with 133,326 attendees. The previous year saw 122,695 attendees on opening day.

"We are grateful for those who were able to come out and support our exhibitors, performers, vendors, volunteers and hardworking staff who make this event an iconic part of Minnesota," fair officials said in a statement.

Fair organizers have faced criticism in recent weeks for not requiring face coverings or vaccines — mandates they said they wouldn't be able to enforce. Attendees are encouraged but not required to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces.

On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health announced 1,912 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths, bringing the state's pandemic totals to 644,190 infections and 7,799 fatalities.

The percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 continues to increase, with 6.2% of tests detecting the coronavirus that causes the disease. That's up from the 1.1% in late June.

A total of 5,024 new first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were reported to state officials, leaving the state just ten doses away from reaching 3.3 million Minnesotans with at least one shot.

Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.

Zoë Jackson is a reporter covering St. Paul and its neighborhoods for the Star Tribune. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack