Update: Wednesday 5:30 p.m. — Following our original story on Wednesday, Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino decided to close the Farmers’ Market until the COVID-19 “caseload in Maryland is on the downslope.”
“The Farmers’ Market is definitely off on Saturday and will be until further notice,” Cerino said in a text. He said the Kent County Health Department thought the vendors would be “too condensed” at Wilmer Park and preferred vendors be spaced 40 yards apart.
“We really don’t have any great spaces in town to accommodate an open-air market with that amount of spacing,” he said.
(In the 5-minute video below, Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino on April 8 addresses his decision to extend shut down of the Farmers’ Market)
Opening the Farmers’ Market this Saturday is a “terrible idea,” said Chestertown resident Pete Brocker in a comment on the Kent Pilot.
Chestertown resident Dr. Wendy Cronin, who holds a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology — and spent her 40-year career fighting communicable diseases at home and abroad — said reopening the Farmers’ Market should be delayed until the COVID-19 curve has substantially declined based on Maryland Health Department data.
And many town residents have also expressed concern.
In the last 24 hours the number of cases has surged statewide by 1,158, the single largest spike in the state in one day so far, and Kent has reported yet another case, bringing the county’s total to nine.
“It is not a good idea to reopen the market while Maryland appears to be moving towards its peak with new infections,” Cronin said. “And the number of cases is still going up in Kent County.”
Queen Anne’s County was declared as an “emerging hot spot” by Gov. Larry Hogan, because of travel on the 301 corridor.
“I too miss the Farmers’ Market and I feel for the vendors,” Cronin said. “Finding a way to connect these vendors with customers without holding the Farmers’ Market would be an ideal alternative. People could go to their favorite vendors in a venue where people aren’t clustered together.”
“No one can predict the future, but hopefully in a couple of months the market could be reopened under strict guidelines when more masks are available,” Cronin said. “And this assumes that cases are declining based on the data at that point.”
Chestertown Ward 2 Councilman Tom Herz said every precaution would be taken to ensure the safety at the Farmers’ Market this Saturday.
“The Mayor and Town Council, in deciding to re-open the Chestertown Farmers’ Market, are responding to constituents’ concerns regarding access to fresh, local food,” Herz said in an email to the Kent Pilot. “We are temporarily re-inventing the market at Wilmer Park with a plan to break old habits of socializing. Volunteers have stepped up to ensure customers remain distanced and we are working with County authorities to review new rules and regulations governing customers and vendors to ensure we take every precaution to protect both citizens and local vendors.”
But Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed an executive order granting local health department officials greater latitude to regulate or close businesses they deem are unsafe.
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver reiterated again today that it was too soon to reopen the market.
“I believe it is too soon to open the market and put our citizens at risk of COVID-19,” he said in a brief phone call with the Kent Pilot. “Especially when we are told to shelter in place and keep our distance from one another in a time when infections are on the rise.”
Kent County Health Officer William Webb would not comment on reopening Farmers’ Market this Saturday.
The decision to re-open the Farmers’ Market comes after the Mayor and Council voted in March to close all venues where more than 10 people could gather.
Cronin said people should also be cautious about homemade masks.
“Some unpublished data indicate that bandanas alone are not adequate to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Cronin said.
Cronin said homemade masks should meet the requirement of surgical masks, and those designs are available on the CDC website.