HARRISBURG — At the 106th annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, carnival music from a carousel floated over the apples and the Amish quilts and made the state Department of Health’s booth a bit more festive.

Tom McGroarty, a Health Department employee and former mayor of Wilkes-Barre, stood in the aisle Monday as attendees passed by, urging them, like a barker, to step right up and take a shot — of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many people just passed on, but McGroarty’s gift for small talk made others pause, talk to the medical staff, and roll up their sleeves.

“You just treat people like they’re human beings,” McGroarty said.

The Pennsylvania show, which began in 1917, is the largest indoor agricultural event held in the United States. The eight-day event traditionally sees more than 500,000 visitors from all over the country, along with thousands of animals competing in hundreds of judging events. The show was virtual last year due to COVID-19 concerns.

This year’s in-person show kicked off Saturday, however, despite Pennsylvania’s spike of COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations. The farm show’s official web page, citing the CDC, recommended that attendees wear masks. Few of the thousands in attendance Monday followed that advice.

“I think the people who are really concerned about COVID probably wouldn’t come here to begin with,” said Jim Freidhoff, a volunteer with the Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

That was the advice Russell Redding, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, gave earlier this month.

“For individuals who are concerned about their personal health or have family members or colleagues who are particularly vulnerable, this is not the year to attend,” Redding said.

Freidhoff’s information booth handed out farm show guides and maps and also free hand sanitizer and masks. When asked if people were taking the masks, Freidhoff said “not necessarily.” Only a handful of people took one there Monday in a 15-minute time span.

Redding noted that the farm show’s HVAC system was upgraded to create better air flow and aisles were widened to alleviate crowds and congestion. Outside the show’s Cameron Street entrance, signs encouraged visitors to wear masks and get shots. The Department of Health has offered flu shots at the farm show for several years but added the COVID-19 vaccine this year. A total of 127 COVID-19 vaccines and 55 flu vaccines were administered Saturday and Sunday, according to the department, and the booth will remain open for the remainder of the show, which ends Saturday.

Many who got shots Monday said they were getting COVID-19 boosters there because of the convenience. Others said they couldn’t find an appointment at home. For those who traveled to the show from urban and suburban areas, the lack of masking was a shock.

“I don’t know what percent are wearing masks, but it’s not many,” said Mary Batt, 65, from Ridley.

Charles Graydus, 67, a teacher from Elverson, Chester County, got his booster at the show Monday. He said he’s around a lot of children.

“So it just makes sense to me,” he said.

Elsewhere, the festivities resembled farm shows of old. Beef cattle were led in and out of the auction arena. Food booths sold baked potatoes and mushroom burgers. A calf named Fiona was born Monday, wobbling by the gawkers in her pen. The butter sculpture, carved out of 1,000 pounds by a Conshohocken couple, featured three dairy farmers toasting with milk in a glass freezer by an entrance.

Outside, school buses were lined up in the parking lots as districts got back to the time-honored farm show class trip.

Still, many retailers and exhibitors said attendance was down. Official numbers have not been released. Low turnout might be bad for vendors, but attendees concerned about COVID didn’t mind.

“I like it this way,” Graydus said. “You can walk around and feel comfortable. There’s been years here when you can barely move.”

Many attendees, like many Americans, were simply trying to live somewhere in between extreme caution and normalcy.

“We drove here from Ohio and we’re vaccinated and boosted and wearing masks,” said Tad Becker, 61. “If it gets too crowded and we get uncomfortable, we can always leave.”