Returning Main Street Delaware's Farmers Market to the downtown could give a badly needed boost to businesses there, Delaware City Council was told Aug. 24.

The annual market opened May 30 on the Delaware County Fairgrounds to provide improved social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Main Street Delaware took that step after consulting with the Delaware General Health District and city government officials.

City Manager Tom Homan told council Aug. 24 the city, Main Street Delaware and the health district had met a few weeks earlier about possibly returning the market to the downtown, where it had been held annually before the pandemic.

Health district officials would make that decision, he said, but they wanted input from Main Street Delaware and the city.

Health district commissioner Shelia Hiddleson told council she expected to make a decision by the end of the week.

After the meeting, Main Street Delaware program coordinator Caroline Pusateri said, "If a decision is made to move the farmers market back downtown, we plan on sharing it on all of our social-media outlets -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram -- through press releases, as well as posters in all of our businesses downtown and signs at the fairgrounds. We are prepared to make an announcement the day of, or the following day."

Council member Lisa Keller said increased foot traffic from the market would help downtown businesses facing an economic crisis because of the pandemic.

"A lot of our local businesses are suffering," Keller said, and 80% of the downtown businesses surveyed by Main Street Delaware want the market to return.

At a time when national retailers are seeing increased profits, 21% of Delaware's small businesses are closed or will close, with revenue down 30% or more, she said.

"I simply don't see any justification to prevent the market, which is already happening at the fairgrounds, from coming back to our downtown," Keller said.

When looking at the city's number of coronavirus cases, "We can't justify having these extreme measures any longer when we have businesses that are participating in safety protocols, making a commitment to follow all of the distancing. Every bar that we have set, these businesses have met the challenge and ... done what they could to make sure that they were doing what was asked of them. And in return, they haven't been given anything when the numbers have gone down," she said.

Hiddleson said the health district has seen a decrease in new coronavirus cases.

"I do see many more masks when I'm out and about, and we certainly are encouraging Main Street Delaware and everybody ... to keep a mask on.

"With more and more things opening up, I think we do have to rely on our communities to do the correct things," she said.

"I know Tom and I were going to try to have a conversation with (Main Street Delaware director Susie Bibler) yet this week and just look at it a little bit more. But it does seem like with the numbers going in the correct direction and with more people wearing those masks, that it is a time to look at that and see if we could go ahead and open it up and again trust our community to do the right thing in order to help our businesses," Hiddleson said.

This year's market was scheduled to run 9 a.m. to noon each Saturday until Oct. 24, according to information from the Main Street Delaware organization.

Pusateri showed council a map depicting the downtown location of market vendors' tables, which are proposed along the east side of Sandusky Street, extending around corners at William and Winter streets.

In the past, that configuration accommodated 45 vendors, yet the most seen this year is 38 vendors, she said. Also, the number of vendors should be expected to decrease as the produce season winds down, she said.

As a result, Pusateri said, vendors' tables could be more than 10 feet apart, leaving ample room for social distancing.

Bibler said Main Street Delaware wants everyone to wear face masks at the market.

"We want to do what's obviously best for our downtown businesses, but we also want to do what's best when it comes to the safety and health of our community members," she said.

Also during the meeting, Hiddleson gave an update on coronavirus cases in the health district. The district doesn't include the entire county; areas in Columbus, Dublin and Westerville are covered by Franklin County Public Health or Columbus Public Health.

Hiddleson said the health district that day had 183 active cases and 25 in Delaware city.

One person was hospitalized, she said, and 598 people were in isolation or quarantine.

She said the county was on an orange alert in the Ohio COVID-19 risk system; red and purple alerts are designated for counties where the coronavirus is spreading more quickly.

One indicator of the state's system is when a county has an average of 50 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period

In the previous week, Hiddleson said, the county was at 65 cases per 100,000. Only three of the health district's cases were in congregate settings, she said.

"Our highest group is still our 20- to 29-year-olds. As far as our active cases, they are over 20% of our cases," she said, adding that Ohio Wesleyan University is not to blame for those numbers.

OWU tested 1,300 students when they returned to the campus the week of Aug. 17, and only 1.3% tested positive, she said.

The Ohio National Guard tested 448 people at a pop-up testing site Aug. 7 at the Second Ward Community Center, 54 Ross St., Hiddleson said. Three percent tested positive, she said

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