Organizers of an outdoor car show in Pennsylvania said late Wednesday that the event would go on despite a lawsuit by the state health department seeking to shut it down for operating in violation of coronavirus restrictions, specifically a rule banning gatherings of more than 250 people.
The sprawling event expects to see about 100,000 attendees over four days.
Show organizers called the state’s coronavirus health order «invalid» and said they would «vigorously defend this action» to open their event in court.
The event, called Spring Carlisle, started Wednesday and is scheduled to go through Saturday. But the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) sued Carlisle Events, the organization putting on «one of the largest automotive flea markets in the world and one of the best opportunities to get your hands on all things automotive,» early Wednesday morning. It said that the group had ignored multiple warnings from the state to not continue with Spring Carlisle after earlier this month it asked for a waiver excepting it from the 250-person limit.
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But Wednesday night, Carlisle Events announced its intention to continue with Spring Carlisle and defend itself against the lawsuit, which now has a hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday.
«Similar to other large outdoor entertainment venues and amusement parks that have or are scheduled to open under the Green Phase in southcentral Pennsylvania, our approximately 100-acre event facility provides ample space for vendors and patrons to interact in a responsible manner, consistent with the CDC’s social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines,» Carlisle Events’ statement read.
It added: «Carlisle Events has worked tirelessly to put on this event in a socially responsible manner and will continue to do so. We believe the Department of Health’s order is invalid. Even if the order is valid, the department has erred in its application to outside events such as ours, or has acted arbitrarily in seeking to enforce the order against us, while permitting other entertainment venues to open.»
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But Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine has said that the immense size of the show, whether outdoors and socially distanced or not, puts the state at risk for a bump in coronavirus cases, potentially putting lives in danger, and must be stopped by a court order.
«When individuals choose to ignore those safeguards – such as by holding an event anticipating 100,000 attendees – they put the lives of Pennsylvanians at risk and threaten to reverse the significant progress that has been made to resolve this crisis,» the suit, on behalf of Levine’s DOH, said. «That dangerous conduct must be stopped before it can occur.»
Levine also raised similar concerns in a letter sent to event organizers after they asked for a waiver but before the event opened Wednesday.
«[T]he large number of persons who typically attend, the wide variety of locations from which they travel, and the fact that they will congregate in hotels and restaurants through the area creates a strong potential for the spread of infection,» she said. «[Y]ou should know that the disease Prevention and Control Law provides for criminal and civil penalties for violations of these orders.»
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The move by the state attempting to shut down the primarily outdoors auto festival comes less than two weeks after thousands gathered in Philadelphia to protest racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. State officials largely encouraged the protests, though some officials elsewhere in the country noted the potential coronavirus transmission risk.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf himself participated in one march in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 3.
«I’m at today’s March Against Injustice and Gun Violence 2020 in Harrisburg in solidarity with our community,» he tweeted. «Black lives matter. Racism must end. I am here to listen.»
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State Sen. Mike Regan, a Republican who represents the area where the car show is happening, said the Wolf administration is acting hypocritically.
«The lack of clear and consistent guidance for employers and residents as we move through the Governor’s reopening process has led to frustration and anger,” he told Fox News in a statement.
Regan added: “Common sense would suggest that – like outdoor recreation – outdoor sales and other events should be held to a different safety standard. The Governor sent a clear message about the ability to ignore his orders and safety precautions when he marched through the streets of Harrisburg. Instead of working with an employer to further implement precautions and allow for this event to move forward in a county that is in the ‘green phase,’ the Wolf administration instead turns to the court to shut this employer down.»