The Hallowell Community Band rides down Water Street during the Old Hallowell Day parade on July 21, 2018, in Hallowell. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

HALLOWELL — A vote Saturday could cancel Old Hallowell Day for the first time in more than 50 years due to concerns with the coronavirus.

On Friday, officials from the Old Hallowell Day Committee, a private nonprofit that plans the event, will meet to come to a recommendation about the day. Then Saturday, the full committee will meet for a final vote. Ahead of the vote, city boards and officials weighed in on holding the event, largely recognizing that it may not be safe to have the event take place.

Old Hallowell Day is customarily held on the third Saturday in July, which is July 18 this year. It could be the first time the event has ever been canceled since it began in 1968; City Historian Sam Webber said he was not aware of any other cancellation.

Gov. Janet Mills unveiled a four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy on Tuesday, which said restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people will be in effect through at least July; all restrictions would be lifted at a later date that has yet to be determined.

Jane Orbeton, the president of the Old Hallowell Day Committee, said lead committee officials first discussed canceling the event last month, but later decided the full committee should vote. She said the committee “is quite open” and accepts “anybody who wants to” join.

Orbeton said members of the public are invited to participate in the Saturday meeting, but would need to be invited. Contact information for the group can be found at oldhallowellday.org. Ahead of the weekend’s meetings, Orbeton asked for guidance from Mayor Mark Walker, City Manager Nate Rudy, police Chief Scott MacMaster and the city’s Board of Health.

Crowds line Water Street for the Old Hallowell Day parade on July 15, 2017, in Hallowell. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

The city’s health board, which is made up of local doctors, met Tuesday and briefly discussed implications for Old Hallowell Day, coming to the consensus that it should not take place.

“Knowing what we know today, it did not seem safe to hold a large gathering like a parade, and that even segmented gatherings of 50 people or less in different areas of the city might also be unsafe,” Rudy said about the recommendation, “as people would come into uncontrollable contact with each other in town, and the major factor in virus transmission is person-to-person spread.”

Walker said he urged the committee to hold off on a decision as long as possible, but understood that one needed to be made because sponsors and organizers needed to be notified. He said he would still like to see an event of some sort take place to support the area’s businesses, who have endured a rough spell of luck through the reconstruction of Water Street and now the pandemic, and local musicians.

“If at all possible I’d like to see something, even if not the same as in prior years,” Walker said. “I also think of our Hallowell musicians, who have been out of gigs for going on two months now. If we could have several outdoor performances scheduled around the city, modify some of the schedule, keeping them outside; maybe we can salvage at least part of the day.”

Other festivals, like the Greater Gardiner River Festival, which usually takes place in June, have been canceled due to the outbreak.

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