New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell's administration has yet to weigh in on a controversial decision by the local Board of Health concerning the operating hours for next month's Whaling City Festival.

The city's park commissioners recently granted festival organizers a permit to stage the long-running event at Buttonwood Park July 8-11 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day. But the Board of Health stepped in and said the event could only be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day instead. The BoH cited COVID-19 concerns as the reason. In a letter to festival officials, the BoH notes that New Bedford still has among the highest COVID rates in the state, in addition to one of the lowest vaccination rates. Read the letter for yourself: Health Dept. Letter to Whaling City Festival.

But the decision doesn't make sense. The BoH says the busiest hours for the festival are between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. That is traditionally when the largest crowds turn out. Closing the festival at 6 p.m. would simply increase the crowd size earlier in the day – and it's an outdoor event anyway.

Besides, what makes 6 p.m. the magic hour? Do COVID germs come out only after 6 p.m.? Is it safe to attend the afternoon-long event until 6 p.m. and then dangerous after that? The decision is bologna. If the BoH has concerns about COVID, it would have canceled the festival altogether. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has declared the pandemic over and has lifted his emergency order.

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Many folks who live near the park don't like the Whaling City Festival and would be just as happy if it were not held at all. Mayor Mitchell lives in Ward 5 and has probably received a whole lot of blowback from constituents about the festival. That is likely why the mayor has had no comment on the BoH decision. Even an unanimous city council request that Mitchell intervene on behalf of the festival has gone unanswered.

I suspect that the BoH decision has more to do with political science than medical science.

And what's up with the New Bedford Board of Health being comprised entirely of doctors who live in Dartmouth? Are New Bedford doctors too dumb to serve? Perhaps they are just not politically connected. The idea that three doctors who live in Dartmouth are making decisions about activities in New Bedford's parks ought to be disturbing to New Bedford taxpayers.

Mayor Mitchell, why won't you tell the people where you stand on this issue, and why?

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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