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Westminster council cancels rest of 2020 events, will explore socially distanced alternatives

As far as big events go, Westminster has essentially closed the book on 2020.

With the coronavirus pandemic enduring as a public health crisis disrupting local lives and rituals, Westminster leaders decided to cancel all remaining city events that had been on the calendar through the rest of the year — though the mayor and council members weren’t pleased with the decision they were faced with.

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In the council’s July 27 meeting, Mayor Joe Dominick acknowledged it’s unfortunate to axe events that are typically highlights of the year, but he saw no way around the reality of the situation.

“Here’s what I don’t want, I also don’t want staff spending a lot of time going back and forth and planning things and wondering if we have to plan things and maybe even stalling other decisions because of uncertainty,” he said. “I don’t see us having any [events] for the rest of the year, and I think it’s smart that we just admit that to ourselves so that we can focus or time, energy and resources on other things.”

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Dominick expressed a hope that, with planning traditional events off the table, city staff might be able to devote time to things that they wouldn’t normal get to.

Although the council voted 3-0 to cancel events including the Oyster Stroll and Miracle on Main Street, they also agreed in that vote to explore options for alternative events that could still be held while adhering to public health guidelines to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The idea of drive-in movie screenings was floated, as well as the possibility of outdoor concerts. Abby Gruber, director of Westminster City Recreation Department, said that department has been looking at options.

“We certainly have some ideas that are floating around our department,” she said, adding that she could present some ideas soon. The council is taking her up on that, asking that she and her staff suggest ideas for possible alternative events. Plans for any such events would be submitted to the Carroll County Health Department to verify they would be consistent with public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ed Singer, county health officer, said in an email Thursday that the city had not yet submitted any proposals to the health department, though drive-in movie screenings have been held elsewhere in the county already. Drive-in movie screenings can be held safely, he said, though certain measures would need to be in place to discourage gathering outside of vehicles.

“In other places that have held drive-in movies, they required people to stay in their vehicles unless using the restrooms, etc. Some events had concessions, where people could order by text and have food delivered to their car,” Singer said in the email. “There are many ways this could be done, but the event just has to be designed to keep people from gathering in large groups outside of their vehicles. In other places they had broadcast the audio to be received on the car radio.”

Singer said concerts would be safest if attendees also remained in their vehicles, though he didn’t say broadly that the health department would support concerts because state orders prohibit seated performances. “We would need to see the specific plans before making a final determination,” he said.

Concerns about spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has forced decisions to cancel many other Carroll County events, including the Maryland Microbrewery Festival, Westminster Fallfest and the Maryland Wine Festival. All fire company carnivals were casualties as well. Notably, the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair still went on, but with a limited schedule and without being open to the public.

Council member Ann Gilbert said she thought they should look ahead to 2021 in the hopes that these events can return just as they were, if not better.

Before calling to vote, council member Kevin Dayhoff said the prospect of canceling annual events such as Miracle on Main Street is “pretty sad,” but added, “I don’t think we have another choice, I think it’s a responsible decision.”

Council President Greg Pecoraro said council member Tony Chiavacci, who was not present, reluctantly agreed with the sentiment that events needed to be canceled. He felt the public health situation would be unlikely to change substantially in the coming weeks, and he wanted to give people ample opportunity to plan. Pecoraro echoed that point.

It’s not yet clear how many events Westminster will now host in 2020, or what form they will take. But one idea for a possible outdoor event that Dayhoff presented? Well, Taylor Swift recently released a new album — maybe she’d come to town.

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