Talbot council reluctant to limit gathering sizes

Talbot County Council Member Frank Divilio, during a Tuesday, July 28, council meeting, discusses health safety restrictions to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus. 

EASTON — The Talbot County Council, during a Tuesday, July 28, meeting, scratched its idea to set a limit on indoor and outdoor gathering sizes to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, citing confusion surrounding the restriction’s applicability to “special events,” such as weddings.

The council floated the idea of restricted gatherings at the recommendation of County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley — but the council members’ eagerness to take Wadley’s health safety advice appeared to fall apart as they struggled to nail down the details and implications of the measure.

Council President Corey Pack said during Tuesday’s meeting he wasn’t “comfortable” setting a blanket limit on group sizes, because in some scenarios, “perhaps 150 people spread across 10 acres would be reasonable.”

“I’m not comfortable putting an artificial number in. I’m not comfortable with that at all,” he said.

Pack suggested the county planning office and health department could authorize event sizes on a case-by-case basis, based on the “nature of the event,” the venue size and setup, and the organizers’ plans to ensure public safety.

Council Member Frank Divilio agreed with Pack, saying capacity restrictions should be determined per event, “especially on the Eastern Shore.”

“If you tell a farmer they don’t have enough space, and they live on 1,000 acres, they’re going to look at you funny,” Divilio said.

But Wadley, appearing frustrated with the council’s indecisiveness, pushed back against Pack’s idea. She said she’s “tired of being people’s mother to help them find a loophole so they can have a party.”

“I don’t have enough hours in the day to do that,” she said, adding if the council doesn’t want to set a limit on group sizes, then “fine and dandy,” but don’t ask her to approve individual gatherings.

Pack assured Wadley that approving events would not be “laid at (her) doorstep.” In response, the health officer reiterated her stance against allowing large groups of people to gather in any capacity during the pandemic.

“When you are talking about a virus like COVID-19, there is no safe number,” Wadley said, asserting if the council was not going to pick a number to limit groups, she did not want her name associated with a resolution that allowed for congregating.

Although people are “good intentioned” when they plan events, she said, once they “get the alcohol out and they’ve been there for two hours,” physical distancing, masking and other virus spread-preventing measures tend to fall by the wayside.

Council Vice President Chuck Callahan weighed in to say the council was “sort of all over the map” in its discussion of pandemic-fighting restrictions. Callahan suggested the council iron out the details and revisit the measure at its next meeting.

Divilio offered that the county could develop a “COVID permit” for events, which would allow organizers to lay out their plans and get the health safety advice and approval of local officials based on their venues’ specific arrangements.

Following a lengthy discussion among the council members, Pack said he would develop a plan for gatherings limits and introduce it at next month’s meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The specifics of Pack’s suggestion have yet to be determined.

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