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Health officials raise concerns over Christmas on Main Street event in Weirton

WEIRTON — A holiday celebration is still set to take place in downtown Weirton Saturday afternoon, although not everyone is on board with the plan.

“Christmas on Main Street,” organized by Renaissance Weirton, is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in front of the Millsop Community Center. It is set to include ice skating, train rides, and several food and craft vendors, with a tree lighting and fireworks at 7 p.m.

According to Mayor Harold Miller, who serves as chair of Renaissance Weirton, there will be COVID precautions expected of anyone attending or participating in the event.

“Masks are mandatory,” Miller said, Wednesday, explaining sanitizing stations also will be available and vendor booths are being spaced out. “There are limited food vendors, but there will be craft vendors.”

In preparation for the “Christmas on Main Street” festivities, Main Street, from Cove Road to Marland Heights Road, will be closed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, with detours established to send traffic around the event area.

Despite the precautions described by the mayor, county health officials have recommended the event not be held.

In a letter sent Nov. 10 by the Hancock County Health Department, and addressed to Miller, county health officials noted they had been approached in late October about the event, which had been described as having food vendors, entertainment and rides and attractions.

“At that time the Health Department in conjunction with the Board expressed concern with these plans and recommended against such an event due to COVID-19,” the letter states.

The letter continues by stating event organizers submitted altered plans, with the board again expressing “grave concerns” and stating that if organizers “chose to move forward with the event then it would be doing so contrary to our expressed recommendation not to hold the event.”

Health officials have cited recent local spikes in COVID-19, traced to mass gatherings. As of Thursday afternoon, both Hancock and Brooke counties were classified as “orange” by the state Department of Health and Human Resources COVID metrics.

“Consequently, there are no circumstances that exist where we would give our ‘blessing’ to the type of event the City of Weirton is planning to hold no matter what changes or alterations are presented to us. Where we do not believe we possess the power to stop this event from occurring, we once again strongly urge and recommend that it not take place. The City is free to reject our recommendations and continue with the planned event but we believe that this would not be prudent under the current circumstances,” the letter concludes.

The letter is signed by Health Department Administrator Jackie Huff; John Plesa, chairman of the health board; and Dr. Christopher Rhody, county health officer.

The Hancock County Health Department posted a similar message on its Facebook group Thursday afternoon.

Some members of Weirton Council also are speaking against the event, noting there was no action taken by council in support of the “Christmas on Main Street,” and explaining the event is being planned by Renaissance Weirton and not the City of Weirton.

The issue had been raised during Thursday morning’s meeting of the Weirton Park Board.

“We had some concerns about the event,” Ward 5 Councilwoman Flora Perrone said. “The Hancock County Health Department is not supportive of this event.”

Perrone said she had been approached by some of her constituents.

“People are concerned,” she said.

Ward 2 Councilman Mike Adams, who also is a member of the Park Board, said, he too, had been approached by constituents.

“I passed their concerns on to council,” he said, noting he understands the interest in having community festivities, but there must also be concern for public safety. “It’s not an easy issue.”

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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