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Baltimore braces for crowds on Halloween amid coronavirus; liquor board and police prep for enforcement

Trick-or-treating is discouraged. Bar crawls, house parties and haunted houses are off. Concerns due to the coronavirus have tamped down or eliminated many traditional Halloween festivities this year.

But Baltimore is preparing for costumed crowds in Fells Point, Federal Hill and the city’s other popular bar areas on Saturday night anyway. The city is closing several streets to vehicle traffic, the police department has hundreds of extra officers at the ready and some establishments plan to close early.

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“This year is not like other years," Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said this week. “We want to be especially safe and especially cautious.”

She reiterated that message Friday at a virtual briefing with Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, where she presented city data showing a spike in cases per 100,000 residents to 13.6 over the past seven days from less than half that a month ago.

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“Halloween is not the time for anyone to pretend we are not in an active pandemic,” she said. “Unless everyone continues to follow practical harm reduction guidance, including not attending house parties, not going traditional trick-or-treating this weekend, or going to parties or indoor spaces where social distancing is hard without wearing a face cloth covering, we will see that second wave of COVID-19 here locally.”

The Baltimore Police Department has canceled leave, providing officials with more than 300 extra officers to address any Halloween crowds in the city “as needed,” spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said. The preparations are occurring as Maryland sees increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

A Baltimore Police mobile command post will park at Broadway Square in Fells Point, and liquor board inspectors are preparing for “massive crowds,” said Gail Furman, an owner of Max’s Taphouse and a board member of the Fells Point Main Street business association.

Max’s, which has about 20 outdoor tables and a walk-up carryout window, will close at 8 p.m. to avoid being part of “a big spreading event," Furman said. The bar plans to resume limited indoor seating, by reservation only, for the first time since the pandemic began for the Ravens-Steelers game Sunday.

“We want to do everything we can to keep our customers and employees safe," Furman said. "We want all our businesses to be able to remain open and not have any curfews or anything in the near future.”

On the other side of the harbor, Mother’s Federal Hill Grille will have a deejay and more than 30 outdoor tables available for customers, said Dave Rather, the owner.

The bar lost much of its usual revenue from canceled festivities for St. Patrick’s Day, Orioles Opening Day and the Fourth of July, and is doing only about 20% of its normal business, he said.

“Still come, wear your costumes. We’re still going to have fun," Rather said. "You can dance and hang with some people at your table. Wear your mask and party responsibly.”

Inspectors from the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners will be present “across the City, particularly in Fells Point and Federal Hill, to monitor licensed establishments and compliance with safe operations requirements and COVID-19 regulations,” the agency said in its October community newsletter.

“Inspectors will visit establishments and remind licensees about concerns such as proper ID checking, noise levels, crowd control, and abiding by protective face covering and social distancing requirements,” the newsletter said.

The Creative Alliance’s Halloween lantern parade in Southeast Baltimore’s Patterson Park will take place still, but with a twist: It’s now “The Great Halloween Lantern and Dia De Los Muertos Car Parade." It also is presented by Friends of Patterson Park and Nuestras Raices.

The giant glowing lanterns will wind through neighborhood streets from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with pop-up Sidewalk Serenade performances along the route for neighbors to enjoy from their front steps.

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“Decorate your stoop, create lanterns at home, cheer on the parade!” an online promotion reads. “Put on a costume, tighten up your mask, and enjoy the festivities!”

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, said the nonprofit is working with its business, police and other city agency partners to ensure people follow Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Baltimore City Health Department guidelines.

“Public health safety is an overriding factor in this pandemic," she said.

Young’s executive order prohibiting public gatherings is still in effect, said James Bentley, a city spokesman.

The city health commissioner encouraged pumpkin carving, virtual gatherings and other at-home celebrations that don’t risk exposure to people outside your household. The surrounding counties have issued similar recommendations.

In a Facebook post, the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services advised residents to understand the risks of various activities. Low-risk activities include decorating your house, while socially distanced costume parades and ready-to-go trick-or-treat bags outside for pick-up are moderate risk, it said.

“Higher risk activities include traditional, door-to-door trick-or-treating, parking lot trunk-or-treats, crowded indoor costume parties, indoor haunted houses, and hayrides with people not in your household," the post said. "These activities should be avoided. Remember — just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Dzirasa also warned that some behaviors are riskier than others.

“We should always, always make an effort to maintain six feet of distance from anyone who’s not in our household and have our face coverings on over our nose and mouth whenever we’re out in public,” Dzirasa said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Phil Davis, Ben Leonard and Hallie Miller contributed to this article.

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