Investigation ongoing into massive gathering deemed illegal under COVID restrictions

BRIDGEVILLE – Multiple state agencies, including Delaware State Police, are investigating a large gathering staged Sunday, east of Bridgeville – an event state officials label “illegal” during COVID restrictions and a potential “super spreader” that may have put hundreds of attendees at risk.

State police spokeswoman Cpl. Heather Pepper said attendance was estimated at 1,500 people – well over what is allowed under Gov. John Carey’s Phase 2 emergency order limit of 250 during the pandemic.

“This is approximately the fifth year of the rodeo hosting at this site. However, neither DSP nor DelDOT were given advance notification,” said Cpl. Pepper. “Upon our arrival, the event had clearly exceeded the property’s capacity. “

State police utilized a patrol vehicle to close the entrance to additional guests.

“Once we assessed the entire situation, we determined the safest conclusion to the event was to allow the event to come to a peaceful close at the scheduled time,” said Cpl. Pepper. “This decision helped maximize the safety for the individuals attending and surrounding community.”

State police issued four traffic citations in three crashes resulting from the event volume and backup, Cpl. Pepper said.

Enforcement regarding violation of the emergency order is pending the review of the Office of the Attorney General.

The event was staged at Rancho El 24 in the 14000 block of Redden Road, about a half-mile west of Chaplains Chapel Road in rural Bridgeville.

Facebook photos show a huge gathering for a concert-type event. The event was advertised in advance on social media, including Facebook, reaching predominantly into the Hispanic community.

“It was appalling,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, Delaware Division of Public Health Director during a Tuesday coronavirus press briefing.

“I was very disturbed by the photographs that I saw. That is clearly not allowed, a gathering like that,” said Gov. Carney Tuesday.

“I didn’t see folks wearing masks and I saw people shoulder to shoulder, which is not currently permitted. And it is frankly a prescription for disaster, a super spreader as they call it, and shouldn’t occur.”

“The pictures were horrible. This event was illegal,” said Dr. Rattay. “Not only was this event illegal but as Gov. Carney just said this event has put many people at risk. I think one of the disappointing aspects of this is Delawareans, Delaware businesses have made tremendous sacrifices over the months, and an event like this can really just counter all of the efforts that taken place.”

Dr. Rattay said the Division of Public Health is working with the Department of Justice on the next steps, including enforcement actions.

“Additionally, we want to make sure that everyone that attended that event knows that they are at risk. We encourage everybody who attended that event to get tested,” said Dr. Rattay.

“There were it looked like hundreds of people there that weren’t practicing social distancing, weren’t wearing masks,” said Gov. Carney. “It appeared anyway that the target audience was communities in Sussex County that have already seen significant spread of COVID-19. So, for anybody who was at that event they need to make sure that they get tested. We have tested intensely in those communities. It is really important that anybody that was at that event gets tested. We’ll make those tests available.”

Cpl. Pepper said Delaware State Police remains in communication with Sussex County officials regarding the event approval process and is also in contact with the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement.

The emergency order violation will be reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General, which will be in contact with the Department of Public Health, Cpl. Pepper said.

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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