Hundreds of tourists returned to the streets, restaurants, and shops of Gettysburg last weekend as Adams County moved into the green phase of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s coronavirus orders.
The streets were particularly crowded on Saturday because the Gettysburg Outdoor Antique Show, sponsored by the Gettysburg Area Retail Merchants Association (GARMA), was held that day as was the weekly Adams County Farmers Market.
“We’re happy to start seeing people coming to town again,” said Borough Council President Jake Schindel.
While many are excited to see events and other activities gradually begin to resume, others are concerned about what reopening could mean for Gettysburg’s health and safety. Reports of the Outdoor Antique Show’s turnout caused a heated online discussion, where many questioned whether enough shoppers were wearing masks.
“There were people who weren’t following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.” Schindel said. “When you invite in people from other places you’re inevitably circulating viruses from elsewhere. If people don’t take precautions you’re going to pass something to someone.”
According to an order issued by Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine in April, mask-wearing and social distancing are recommended outdoors and required indoors for all businesses.
“In yellow and green counties, it is required that masks are worn when visiting businesses to protect employees, employees’ families, and communities as a whole,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a recent announcement.
Ken Knox, a local resident and founder for the Gettysburg View, a Facebook community page, is happy to see people out on town again, but called the number of people he saw “disjarring,” especially as COVID cases have started to increase again.
“I just hope people are staying conscious of not doing all the things that got us into this mess in the first place,” Knox wrote.
Other residents have also raised concerns of visitors from outside Gettysburg not adhering to the proper guidelines. Some residents observed that many of the shoppers at the Outdoor Antique Show who were not wearing masks did not seem to be residents.
“Most locals who have been accommodating and respectful and safe,” Reza Djalal, Adams County Farmers Market Manager, said. “And then there was this influx of tourists disregarding some of the safety policies.”
Some residents have mentioned the difficulty with enforcing safety measures. Even if businesses violated the orders, there are no apparent consequences for them. Borough Manager Charles Gable said individual businesses could make their own decisions about whether they require masks or not.
“We don’t have the mandate to force people to wear masks,” Gable said.
Main Street Gettysburg CEO Deb Adamik said her organization does not have any authority to impose any rules on anyone. “I believe that if we want our businesses opening and staying open, we need to lean to the strongest side of safety and caution. Most of the businesses I have spoken to in the past week agree with safety first and are hoping that everyone wears their mask and respects social distancing practices,” said Adamik.
Jennie Dillon, GARMA Vice President, also spoke about the difficulty with enforcing the mask policy, saying that although the Antique Show is an outdoor event where masks are not required, organizers made a substantial effort to ensure the health and safety of the vendors and the shoppers.
Those safety measures included adjusting the vendor’s stations so they were farther apart, providing individual hand sanitizer spray to vendors, putting hand sanitizer stations in several different areas of the town square, setting up an information table on health measures and upcoming events, and strongly encouraging vendors to wear masks.
“There was a lot of decision-making and hard work going into this. If we did not have all the [GARMA] board in agreement, it would not have happened,” Dillon said.
As the reopening phases continue in Pennsylvania, local residents will continue to grapple with health and safety as they manage local businesses as well as the increase in visitors. While it is unclear exactly what the future will hold, some residents are hopeful for an eventual return to normalcy as long as health measures are followed properly.
“In an ideal world, things will get safer and safer, and we’ll get more and more visitors.” Djalal said.