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After event draws 1,000-plus, Carroll County commissioners prohibit large gatherings, including Maryland Wine Festival

Four days after the Carroll County Farm Museum hosted more than 1,000 guests Sunday for a private event, the Board of County Commissioners voted to prohibit future large gatherings on county-owned properties, effectively canceling the Maryland Wine Festival.

On Sunday, a reggae wine festival offered drinks, food, and music to guests outdoors on the grounds of the Farm Museum, in Westminster, from noon to 7 p.m., according to the Secret Garden Music, Arts, and Wine Festivals Facebook page. Jack Lyburn, director of economic development, said there were about 1,200 guests in attendance.

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Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, voiced concerns for what message the event sends about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Farm Museum is located at the base of Carroll Hospital Center. There’s COVID-positive patients in there looking down at 500 cars. Does that not trouble some of you?” Wantz said at the Thursday board meeting.

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Tanz Davidson, the event coordinator, said in an interview that they submitted a plan to the Carroll County Health Department in advance of the event, which they’ve held at the Farm Museum for a few years.

Davidson said they checked every person’s temperature at the gate, required masks in common areas, marked the ground to indicate social distancing, had plexiglass barriers, cleaned the bathrooms every 30 minutes, set up sanitizing stations and provided disposable cups for wine tasting, among other measures. Vendors spaced their tables 6 feet apart. A security team and event staff enforced mask wearing.

Overall, Davidson said guests were cooperative and followed protocol. He estimated 1,000 to 1,200 people attended.

“It was our goal to create a new normal where safety was the priority,” Davidson said. “We felt like we were very successful.”

When asked who gave county approval for the event, county spokesperson Chris Winebrenner said in an email, “There is a normal approval process for every event that is held at the Farm Museum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff took the extra step to ensure the event did not violate any Governor Executive Order, which it did not, and followed procedures to forward the event plan to the health department to review and provide guidance to the event planners.”

Winebrenner later said additional details on the commissioners’ large gathering policy were being finalized and would be included in a news release in the near future.

The Farm Museum closed to the public in March and reopened Wednesday, offering guided tours and other outdoor activities.

Wantz acknowledged the cancellation of other events around the county, such as the Westminster Fallfest. Wantz said he didn’t care if best practices were used at the Farm Museum event, he was still uncomfortable with the number of people who gathered there at once.

“I don’t care if the best practices were being used … my point is, we’re allowing a large gathering to come into our county when everything in the county, for the most part, has been canceled. It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Wantz said.

Talk turned to the Maryland Wine Festival, which is typically held in September at the Farm Museum. Lyburn asked whether the commissioners would support a drive-thru wine pickup in the parking lot if they were opposed to holding the festival in the typical fashion.

The commissioners did not agree with the drive-thru idea. Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Wantz questioned the point of holding a wine pickup on county property. Customers could order directly from wineries without the county being involved, Frazier said.

Wantz made a motion to prohibit all large gatherings until further notice. Commissioners Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked Wantz to be more specific so as not to restrict businesses. Roberta Windham, county administrator, suggested the motion be to prohibit large events on county-owned property, which includes the Farm Museum.

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Wantz took her suggestion and amended his motion, which passed, 5-0. The motion did not specify how many guests would qualify as a large gathering.

Event was permitted, but large gatherings discouraged

Ed Singer, head of Carroll County Health Department, said the department reviewed plans for the event, at the request of county staff. He said the department did not endorse the event, but offered advice on ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“I discouraged anyone I knew from attending the event last Sunday because of the number of people I knew would attend; however, the event was not in violation of the executive orders currently in place,” Singer wrote in an email Thursday.

He said generally, the department refers people to the guidelines set by the state department of health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Essentially, we are not approving events, but advising on compliance with state-level orders,” Singer wrote. “Most of the government-sponsored events in Carroll County have been canceled by the jurisdictions that sponsor them. While the health department and state officials are discouraging large gatherings, it is up to the jurisdictions that own public property to determine which events they will allow on their property, provided they comply with state-level orders.”

Singer confirmed the event organizer submitted a social distancing plan for the event.

Singer wrote that the county health department supports the commissioners’ vote to prohibit future large gatherings on county-owned property.

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