Rich Howells

Wilkes-Barre cancels Fine Arts Fiesta and Cherry Blossom Festival as coronavirus spreads in Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre cancels Fine Arts Fiesta and Cherry Blossom Festival as coronavirus spreads in Pennsylvania
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Yesterday, the city of Wilkes-Barre canceled both of its free annual springtime events, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Fine Arts Fiesta, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 43rd annual Cherry Blossom Festival was scheduled for Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 at Kirby Park. In previous years, it featured amusement rides and games, food and craft vendors, a pageant, car show, live music and dancing, and more.

The Fine Arts Fiesta, which was set for May 14-17, is “the most established festival of its kind in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and the city’s most popular event, bringing up to 60,000 people to Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre every year. This is the first time the event has been outright canceled rather than moved or postponed; 2020 would have marked the 65th year of the festival with over 50 artists and crafters exhibiting; juried art exhibits for students and adults; live music, dance, theatre, and poetry; a variety of food trucks and vendors; and more all weekend.

“It is with deep regret that we must cancel these annual events, but it must be done now to ensure that we can celebrate as a community later,” Wilkes-Barre Mayor George C. Brown said in a statement.

“It is with deep sadness and regret that, upon conferring with the city of Wilkes-Barre, both the Fiesta Board of Directors and Mayor George Brown agree that we should exercise an abundance of caution and cancel the 2020 Fine Arts Fiesta. We love our community, artists, vendors, and sponsors and would be devastated if any of them were to be touched by the COVID-19 virus. We thank Mayor George Brown for his compassion and support and wish all of you good health. Please stay safe, and never fear, Fiesta will be back better than ever next year!” Fine Arts Fiesta Board President Mary Anne Fedrick added in a separate statement.

Additionally, the Fine Arts Fiesta 65th Anniversary Cocktail Gala at the Mary Stegmaier Mansion scheduled for May 1 will be postponed until September as public health officials recommend social distancing and staying at home as much as possible to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

On March 15, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that there was a coronavirus case in Luzerne County, so on March 16, Brown declared a state of emergency to “allow the city to access physical and financial needs with state and federal officials and allow the city an immediacy of response to this ever-changing situation.” That day, Wilkes-Barre also closed public access to City Hall, the Department of Public Works, and the Fire Department, though city employees are still reachable by phone and e-mail.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health today, there are now 21 cases in Luzerne County and 15 cases in Lackawanna County. There are 851 positive cases in Pennsylvania overall, which have led to seven deaths, including one in Lackawanna County and one in Monroe County. See the updated map below:

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued orders to close the physical locations of all non-essential, non-life-sustaining businesses by 8 p.m last Thursday, March 19, and enforcement began on Saturday, March 21. On Monday, March 23, they issued “stay at home” orders to Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties through April 6. All schools statewide will remain closed through at least April 6 as well.

“I remain deeply concerned about this public health crisis, and we must continue to take careful but critical steps now to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said in a press release. “We are issuing these orders because Pennsylvanians’ health and safety remains our highest priority.”

“The number of cases continues to grow and so we must take further steps to stop the spread of this contagious and dangerous novel virus to protect the public’s health and mitigate the risk to our hospital system,” Levine added. “There is one way to make sure people don’t need to be hospitalized and we don’t strain our health care system: Stay calm. Stay home. Stay safe.”

To avoid contracting the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, public health officials are encouraging people to regularly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow, and avoid touching their face. Those who are showing symptoms like a fever, cough, and shortness of breath are encouraged to stay home and contact their doctor by phone to avoid exposing others.

Photo by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene