Eat in the Streets cancelled due to COVID-19 safety concerns, organizers say

Local News

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Restaurant owners in downtown Terre Haute cancelled their “Eat in the Streets” event set to begin this weekend citing issues with Vigo Co. Health Department guidelines.

Connie Wrin, The Verve owner and co-organizer of the event, said they hoped this weekend’s event would’ve made the community feel safer.

“To try and get through this, we thought having outdoor seating expanded could maybe get us through this and help us,” Wrin said.

Wrin released a statement Friday addressing the business owners decision to cancel:

“On Thursday we spoke via conference call after receiving a letter ‘outlining’ certain guidelines and restrictions,” Wrin’s statement reads. “After speaking with a member of the Health Department, we stated that we felt these guidelines were too restrictive, not only for a business, but for our customers. We stated that we could not, in good conscience sign the document. At that point the member of the HD stated that they were no longer getting involved and we could ‘go for it.’

“After consideration and taking all things into account, we felt that the barriers presented were not consistent with what others are asked to do,” the statement continues, “and we decided to avoid putting our businesses at risk of closure or citations (which was referenced in the guidelines).”

Wrin owns the Verve nightclub and organizes the annual downtown September Blues Festival, which has been cancelled this year. She concluded, “Hopefully we can put this behind us and move forward from here on.”

Eat in the Streets had earlier received approval from the Mayor, the Board of Public Works and Indiana State Excise Police.

Dr. Darren Brucken, Vigo County Health Officer, said in a statement that Wrin and her co-organizer George Azar made the decision to cancel after the department brought up safety concerns.

One of those concerns was the spread of COVID-19 among the 20-29 age group.

According to Brucken, the department did not order the “Eat in the Streets,” event to be cancelled.

Brucken’s full statement reads:

“In the interest of public health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the VCHD was asked to review the plans for the proposed “Eat in the Streets” downtown event that was organized by downtown businesses under the approval of Terre Haute City officials and State of Indiana Excise. In doing so, our department objectively identified areas of concern that could potentially lead to additional issues with the spread of CoVID 19 within our younger community. As many of you are aware, the 20-29 age group exceedingly dominates the majority of new cases now over several weeks, as our community numbers continue to grow. The higher case count in that age group has often been directly attributable to bars and larger social gatherings where social distancing and masking have not been readily achieved. Many older age groups are now falling ill due to contact with members from that age group, and hospital admissions are climbing in our area. We realize it is imperative to attempt to create fun and unique opportunities for all citizens, and strive to aid all efforts in doing just that, but never at the expense of public health.

Several conversations were held between the event organizers and myself over a 2 day period. In an effort to adhere to time constraints placed upon the discussions, an internal draft document that I created was shared directly with the organizers, in an effort to convey some of these ideas that were to be discussed moving forward. Open qualifying statements about the document were exquisitely clear and precise that it was a draft document containing ideas of my perspective prior to plan delineation, and NOT a formal or finished document, and certainly contains no signature lines-nor was accompanied with a request for anyone’s signature at the time of the discussion. It was inappropriate for that document to be released to others, making it easy to misconstrue its contents well out of the context of the actual document. The document contains several items that were to be discussed such as closing times, outdoor service details, and bar/restaurant occupancy rules set forth under the current Back on Track 4.5 guidelines. I was specific in statements that the VCHD has no authority in the matters set in motion before our input, and that our input was requested much after the plans were laid. I was specific with the statement the organizers do not require any stamp of approval from myself, nor the VCHD to move forward with the event. After discussions via teleconference between myself and the organizers about the varying viewpoints on several matters that I feel could raise concerns related to public health, the event organizers collectively agreed to not move forward with the planned activity, voluntarily. The event/activity was not, is not, and will not be awaiting any vote of authorization from the VCHD, as only events over 250 people require a plan submission to our offices. Our jurisdiction lies with the specific activities of the restaurants and bars that hold food licenses, and most importantly, in matters that affect the health of all Vigo County residents. No document exists, and no conversation was uttered that would have canceled or postponed the event/activity specifically by the order of the VCHD.

The event/activity plans were being carefully considered, with several items being discussed, and compromises being agreed upon. The organizers and our office agree fully on the concept of adding a spark for the downtown community and its businesses during this trying time. There still is great hope that continued collaboration of these groups can lead to a rebirth of the plans at some time in the near future. Our office remains committed to the health of all residents of Vigo County, and remains committed to the health and wellbeing of our entire community, including the support of the financial standing of all businesses and other institutions.

Lastly, it saddens me to see members of the general public attempting to place blame, to defame our department, for our collective work to help offer guidance when asked simply in efforts to help maintain the highest possible degree of safety of our county residents during a pandemic, taking to social media to unleash their derogatory comments at will. Too easily we all forget that we are engaged in a crippling pandemic of infectious disease- one that has taken the lives of nearly 900,000 people, and infecting almost 25 million people worldwide. It is threatening our schools, and bringing many to points of no return of their own emotional health. It has also stolen our communities, our financial wellbeing, and continually threatens our individual sense of humanity and good will. If you feel it’s necessary to run to a computer to post a comment, try to raise someone up, offer some kindness and inspiration. Hate and disrespect breeds itself, as history shows us; kindness can do the same.

Respectfully,

Darren Brucken, MD

Vigo County Health Officer”

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