Large, outdoor events face tough scrutiny in Delaware

DOVER — Delaware’s state of emergency order due to COVID-19 prohibits large, outdoor gatherings of more than 250, but venues can apply for a special permit to hold those events, provided strict guidelines are met.

For example, some events have been approved, such as the Delaware State Fair and Fat Daddy’s Barbecue Fourth of July event.

Given the steps required, some events haven’t even sought permission. There is also one event which has been fined for not securing a permit.

Attendees cannot be held liable for their presence at an event which violates any of the COVID-19 guidelines, just the organizer.

“The onus is on the organizer, not the attendees,” said Michael Chesney, spokesman for the Delaware Division of Small Business.

Complaints about large gatherings can be submitted to — the same email address for complaints for businesses not following COVID-19 guidelines — or called into a complaint phone line.

Jen Brestel, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH), said these reports are triaged and forwarded to one of the three county environmental field office for handling.

“First reports and minor complaints are often handled by phone call to provide information and education,” Ms. Brestel said. “Repeat or more severe complaints are handled via site visit, again with a focus on education. The most severe or repeat offenders could receive an administrative penalty, or may be visited by DPH, law enforcement or other authorities.”

As of this week, the only fine for failure to secure a permit for a large gathering over 250 people was a concert event in Bridgeville hosted by Rancho El 24 and Mexican Folkloric Dance Society of New York. The fine for not securing proper approval was $1000 and two $10,000 fines for face covering and social distancing violations were also issued for a total of $21,000.

Venues apply for large gatherings by submitting a plan to at least seven days prior to the anticipated event.

According to the state of emergency order, “plan approval is at the discretion of the Division of Small Business which, in consultation with the Division of Public Health, will consider how to prevent, reduce the spread of, and suppress COVID-19 at any gathering or event permitted under this modification.”

The DSB provides the final approval with the DPH providing support.

“The Division of Public Health serves in a consulting and support role to DSB to answer questions and help ensure that any public health mitigation factors are in place in the plan,” Ms. Brestel said. “The DPH Health Systems Protection section — the same section that oversees state COVID-19 business inspections and enforcement activities — typically coordinates with Division of Small Business in this process.”

When submitting a plan to apply for a permit, the venue must show a strict adherence to the state of emergency guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

These guidelines include taking steps to protect vulnerable populations, including providing materials and equipment necessary for proper hand hygiene, enforcing social distancing between different households and requiring face coverings for attendees and employees. Venues must have a mechanism for limiting attendance and enforcing social distancing between attendees.

Any concession at the event must either sell pre-packaged food by either delivering it directly to seated customers or ensure social distancing in lines. Buffet-style, family-style and any other self-service food is prohibited per the state of emergency order. Butlered hors d’oeuvres are prohibited as well, unless the server can ensure no human contact with the distribution of pre-packaged items.

Hand-sanitizing stations should be supplied at any entrance or exit and at various locations within the event while bathrooms and high-contact surfaces must be disinfected every 15 minutes to two hours.

These gathering are permitted to occur in tents according to the state of emergency order, “as long as the tents have a maximum of two walls, which may only be opposing and not adjoining.”

The venue’s plan for a gathering exceeding 250 people must also consider local traffic patterns, parking capacity, the level of transmission of COVID-19 in the area and the area of attendees, while complying with all other applicable state, county and local laws for gatherings and events.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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