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Depot Days: One more ‘no’ for 2020

By Randy Garrison

Well folks, it seems I have spent more time in the past few months saying “no” about something than I have during my entire term of office.  

We do still find ourselves in the middle of COVID-19. These are unprecedented times, and I truly hope and pray that a vaccine is soon found and we are able to return to a new normal. 

With that being said, I share with you that I have made the difficult decision to cancel Depot Days for this year. While the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce made a strong effort to find ways to continue this celebration of our city’s history and what would have been the 40th year, in light of our current situation, it just was not to be found.  

While Chamber President Missy Evans and the Board of Directors did their due diligence in working to find ways to make the event possible, the risk to me was just too great. 

I based my decision on three things: 

  • My concern for the citizens of Hartselle and our city employees.  
  • The lack of liability coverage for the City of Hartselle should someone contract COVID-19 at the event and bring a lawsuit against the city. 
  • Feasibility to control the crowds and enforcing social distancing, wearing masks and other safe practices suggested by the State Department of Public Health. 

To elaborate on each one, I will begin with an email I received from the Alabama Department of Public Health: 

Hi Mayor Garrison,
I hope you had an opportunity to review the risk dashboard and the associated guidelines.  Right now with the high level of community transmission you are seeing in the surrounding areas of Hartselle, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a large gathering such as Depot Days.  

If it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart and attendees are expected to travel from outside the local Hartselle area, the greater the risk of COVID-19 spread.
I would also be concerned about asymptomatic citizens who could spread COVID-19 to other community members that have chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma or obesity.  

In addition, if you expect a large number of senior citizens to participate, there is an elevated risk to those community members over 65 years of age.
At this point in time, our community transmission rate is approximately 15%  based on today’s figures.   Bringing together a large crowd in this environment that cannot follow the 6 feet of social distancing, be fully masked and have handwashing/hand sanitizing stations available would be extremely risky. 

Also, I am curious about the potential legal actions that could arise against the city if this gathering causes someone’s death — I am not a lawyer but wonder if there could be any possible legal ramifications from bringing large crowds together during a pandemic?
Please let me know if you need any additional information.
Best Regards,
Carolyn
Carolyn Bern, MPA
Director of Governmental Affairs & Community Relations
This information confirmed my fears that large numbers of outside folks coming into our city, whether to participate in Depot Days as a spectator or vendor, increased the risk of spreading this virus to our city, our police, our firefighters and our public works folks who are required to be able to successfully have Depot Days. 

We have strict protocols in each of our city departments to keep everyone as safe as possible. By exposing these folks to a possible large crowd with those who would possibly not follow safe guidelines, we risk infecting an entire department – or at least one shift of a department.  

Also, I will share that Hartselle has had a lower rate of COVID-19 cases than other areas in our county. We are blessed and thankful for those lower numbers, and much of this is thanks so many of you following guidelines issued by the governor and the state health department.  

By bringing in so many from outside our community, I felt it would raise the odds of changing that status and increasing our cases.  

This again puts our first responders at more risk when they are required to respond to emergency calls for COVID-19 patients – even weeks after the event. 

I am not willing to chance this for our citizens nor our city employees. 

I was also not willing to put the financial welfare of our city at risk. The city’s liability insurance coverage has a communicable disease exclusion included.  

As this relates to COVID-19, if someone came to Depot Days and contracted the virus, the City could find itself in a lawsuit. Without liability coverage, any costs to defend and pay possible damages would come straight from city funds.  

As you know, city funds are taxpayer funded, and each of you would share in that cost. 

The final reason I will share with you relates to those coming to Depot Days.  

While I believe the Chamber could find ways to space the vendors farther apart and move activities to different parts of our city, I could not determine how the crowds could be controlled. If you have visited Depot Days in the past, you have witnessed that many times Main and Railroad streets are packed with folks.   

Without large numbers of volunteers and police presence, social distancing, wearing masks and handwashing would be difficult to enforce.   

With so many events being cancelled previously and in the near future around our community and state, I felt it best to cancel this year’s Depot Days events as well. 

I realize this will be a hardship on many of our downtown businesses and the vendors who normally participate, and for that I am sorry. It will also affect the amount of sales tax that would come into our city had the event taken place. 

However, after much research, thought, prayers for wisdom and discernment and discussion with many folks, the odds just were not in our favor to have the event this year.  

I always try to make any decision I have concerning the City of Hartselle with everyone in mind; however, in some instances, those decisions can and do cause a hardship for some. 

My desire and intent are always to do the right thing for the right reason for all of you. 

God bless you, and God bless Hartselle. 

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