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Havre de Grace Oyster Feast canceled over health concerns as Harford COVID-19 case numbers rise

The Great Havre de Grace Oyster Feast for 2020, which city leaders planned to put on Nov. 21 with safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has been canceled because of concerns over the increasing number of cases in Harford County and Maryland.

“It’s never been the city’s intention to ever put people in harm’s way, or to promote an event that could be extra risky for people’s health,” Mayor William T. Martin said.

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Martin announced the cancellation of the Oyster Feast during a City Council meeting Monday evening. He noted that cases of COVID-19 have “more than doubled” in Maryland since officials began planning the event in September, when 300 to 400 positive cases were being reported statewide each day. Cases have since spiked to 900 to 1,000 a day statewide, according to the mayor.

He also cited case totals locally, with close to 700 new cases in Harford County in October and 50 to 70 more cases over the past weekend. Harford County had 3,820 cases and 78 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 231 cases in the Havre de Grace ZIP code of 21078, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

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Martin said he thinks local communities are dealing with what other parts of the country have experienced with a new wave of COVID-19 cases, noting that the disease is “definitely something to be very conscious about and to think about as we go out in public.”

He encouraged people to remember “three very important things” to prevent the spread, including maintaining social distance, washing hands and wearing masks.

The mayor, who has had his own bout with COVID-19, said he understands people are “very tired” of the pandemic and that it has been “in our lives for a very long time,” but he urged residents to still be careful.

“There’s people alive right now that, if they catch this virus, it could treat them very badly,” Martin said. “Just do the best you can to protect your friends, your neighbors and the people you love.”

City leaders planned an Oyster Feast setup that could accommodate social distancing, with some guests inside the Havre de Grace Community Center and others in tents set up in the parking lot. Planners also worked with the event caterer to develop protocols for food service, and they received approval from the Harford County Health Department to hold the festival.

Proceeds from the festival benefit Havre de Grace-area nonprofits, and representatives of those organizations had been asking if the city would hold the event, according to the mayor.

As of early November, however, only about 24 tickets have been sold, and “a couple hundred” are typically sold three weeks before the oyster festival, Martin said Monday. Representatives from area nonprofits also have expressed concern about COVID-19 spreading during the event.

“We think it’s in the best interest to keep the public safe, and so the oyster feast will be canceled,” said Martin, who noted that those who bought tickets will receive refunds.

The pandemic has forced Havre de Grace officials to cancel multiple community events this year, including the popular Independence Day parade and fireworks show in July, and other events such as the upcoming Christmas celebration have been modified to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Havre de Grace is a city that has lots of events, so I can promise you that as soon as conditions allow, we will have lots of events in the city,” Martin said. “Don’t worry, I promise that.”

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