Two more positive cases reported after free COVID testing following Mecktoberfest at Charlotte brewery

137 people tested, at least 5 test positive following Mecktoberfest event

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Thousands of people attended a three-day Mecktoberfest at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery over the weekend of Sept. 25.

After Mecktoberfest, three people tested positive for coronavirus.

Last weekend, at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Mecklenburg County Health officials hosted free COVID-19 testing for those who attended Mecktoberfest.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said 137 people were tested, and two additional people tested positive for coronavirus virus.

Harris said that makes five known people who attended Mecktoberfest who tested positive for coronavirus.

She also said there could be more because some people who attended the event likely didn’t show up to be tested.

“What that tells me is there was a large number of people at the event,” Harris said. “The expectation is there are probably more positives, either they didn’t get tested or haven’t told us.”

County health officials said the fall event at the Charlotte brewery was linked to a number of positive COVID-19 cases.

After the event, Harris urged people who attended Mecktoberfest to get tested.

Harris said the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Mecktoberfest was attended by thousands.

Harris stopped short of calling it a cluster.

The Charlotte Observer reported two original coronavirus cases were connected to the event, and that “very few masks” were worn and there was “very little social distancing,”

Harris told county commissioners during their meeting last month “There were thousands of people there. Those folks need to be tested.”

As of Tuesday, 30,567 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County. There have also been 374 deaths, including six newly reported deaths on Tuesday.

Public Health officials offered free COVID-19 testing for Mecktoberfest attendees and anyone who needed to be tested on Oct. 10 at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (4150 Yancey Road).

WBTV reached out to Olde Mecklenburg Brewery owner John Marrino but he never responded. Instead, an employee emailed WBTV a statement that did not directly address the claims made by county health officials.

“OMB has always and will continue to work diligently to ensure that we comply with and adhere to all county, state and national health regulations and recommendations. It is also perhaps the easiest place in town to enjoy a beer or a meal with friends while social distancing. If you are not sure and would like to see what a safe and enjoyable place OMB is we encourage you to visit and see for yourself,” the statement read.

On the brewery’s website, it says they are in compliance with the latest statewide mask mandate and ask that guests who aren’t at their table to wear masks inside. Guests are also asked to wear masks when ordering beer and food, both inside and outside.

“Plenty of space and obsessive cleanliness have been enduring hallmarks of the OMB experience since the beginning here,” the brewery’s website reads.

Marrino released this statement on Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s website:

"A little over two weeks ago OMB held its 12th Annual Mecktoberfest Celebration at the Brewery and Biergarten on Yancey Road here in Charlotte. As this has been one of the most difficult years of OMB’s existence, we were looking forward to a scaled back event as we tip-toed back to some semblance of normal life again. Instead, an unfortunate turn of events has unfolded.

"Upon re-opening after the shutdown, OMB spaced out our tables (inside as well as outside in the Biergarten). Since the mandate we’ve always required our staff to wear masks and that our customers wear masks inside when away from their table, and outside while in line for food or drink. In other words, the same thing that every other restaurant and brewery is doing. In fact, we follow every local, state and national health guideline and regulation with regards to Coronavirus (as well as every other health and alcohol related rule.) We also keep our premises very clean and safe at all times. We’ve been doing that every day since re-opening. As such, OMB prepared for Mecktoberfest knowing that things would be a bit different this year.

"Mecktoberfest is a three-day event, and this year took place from Friday, Sept. 25th through Sunday, Sept. 27th. We expected a much smaller turnout this year due to COVID. Contrary to our expectations, several thousand Charlotteans visited OMB that weekend to enjoy the perfect fall weather, good food and pure, fresh beer.

"For all but a few hours of the weekend, and for the vast majority of attendees, the event was near perfect, and everyone practiced good social distancing. On Saturday evening a surge of people came to the festival. As the day progressed, some sub-groups of our attendees (a relatively small number of the overall visitors) chose to ignore requirements to wear masks and social distance, despite our staff’s efforts to control the situation. Perhaps they were confused since they were outside in the Biergarten. This was certainly NOT with our encouragement or our permission. Having said that, the vast majority of our attendees followed the health guidelines and wore masks when unable to social distance. Saturday came to an end, and Sunday was another wonderful day of Mecktoberfest without any of the issues that occurred Saturday evening.

"As would be expected, some attendees videotaped the unacceptable Saturday evening behavior on their phones and posted it on social media. That is not an issue. Our main concern is that this “snapshot” of a three-day event that was virtually perfect at all other times, has distorted people’s perceptions of the overall event and our brewery.

"Recently Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris stated that 2 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks indicated they had attended Mecktoberfest. While we don’t know if they contracted it at our event, we share her (and the public’s) concern and take the situation very seriously. Therefore, we were more than happy to permit the Health Department to set up a free COVID-19 testing station in our parking lot this past Saturday.

"The only issue where we might disagree with Director Harris' is her original comment that “anyone” who attended Mecktoberfest should be tested. In our view, while anyone should certainly get tested if they feel the need, there is no specific reason for anyone who attended Friday, Sunday or early Saturday to be worried at all. All social distancing practices were in place and working fine during those times. The only attendees that absolutely should get tested are those that attended during the period where things were less than perfect (i.e., Saturday evening). However, she has since revised that position with the following statement, “If you went there and didn’t wear a mask and didn’t social distance, you should be tested.” At this point, however, it may be moot as the event was now more than two weeks ago and we are outside the incubation period.

"Following Director Harris' statement (which we do not believe was made with any malice whatsoever), some local Charlotte television and internet media outlets launched into a feeding frenzy at OMB’s expense. The social media “cancel” culture has since also kicked into high gear. As with all hearsay, the story always gets better (or worse) at each leg of the journey. Today, wild assertions about the event, OMB and how we operate are being thrown around on the internet, virtually all of which are false.

"Although we accept that Saturday evening was less than perfect and regret that deeply, we also reject any assertion that the rest of the event was not exceptional, and that our day to day operations are not as safe or safer than any other restaurant or brewery in this city.

"Every brewery, bar and restaurant in this country is facing very difficult challenges in these unprecedented times. Many small local businesses will not survive this pandemic. Given that, we are disappointed that some in our local media chose not to try to understand what actually happened at Mecktoberfest, but instead have seemed more interested in crafting a sensational narrative since Director Harris' original statement.

"That being said, we would like to re-iterate the following to our customers and employees:

  • – We take this situation very seriously
  • – We will learn from this experience
  • – The safety of our guests and staff has and always will be our number one concern
  • – Our staff will continue to wear masks as they have always done since the mandate was enacted
  • – We will continue to keep our facility “pristine” and disinfected every day during COVID and after it runs its course
  • – We will continue to follow all local, state and federal guidelines, and enhance our efforts to ensure compliance by all our guests on site when they are unable to social distance
  • – Our restaurant and Biergarten remains a safe, relaxing place.

"OMB considers itself a part of the Charlotte community. We employ almost 150 of our fellow citizens, buy from dozens of local vendors, and have paid millions in taxes over the years which get reinvested in our community through our local and state governments. We have always strived to enhance the quality of life in this community in our own small way by providing a safe, relaxing location at the brewery to enjoy a beer and a bite with friends.

“Notwithstanding this unfortunate turn of events, we will continue our mission, learn, improve and move forward. We very much appreciate those friends who have supported us during this unprecedented situation. We are also local. So if you are a fair minded person seeing and hearing all these negative stories and commentary about OMB on TV or the internet, and you’re not sure, we’d simply ask that you visit the brewery at your convenience and judge for yourself.”

Sincerely,

John MarrinoFounder

Additionally, Harris released guidance on what residents should do to stay safe on Halloween.

During a Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners meeting Harris said that the list was in collaboration with the CDC and would be distributed more widely in the coming days.

Most notably, there is no guidance to not participate in trick or treating but the list does provide helpful information for doing so safely.

DO

  • Carve pumpkins and decorate your home with your family; drive around and check out your neighbor’s decorations as well
  • Host a virtual Halloween costume party -Make individually wrapped candy available or individually wrapped goodie bags
  • Wash your hands before and after preparing bags
  • Space out candy or goodie bags in a safe place outside, preferably 6 feet from your door -Wear your favorite costume and a cloth face covering to your favorite socially distancing restaurant with your family
  • Make and enjoy your favorite fall beverage and foods at home with your family -Create a scavenger hunt in your yard for your own children
  • Wear your favorite costume and have a Halloween movie night with your family.

DON’T

  • Host or attend large neighborhood pumpkin carving or block parties, haunted houses or festivals
  • Host or attend crowded costume parties or events -Participate in traditional trick-or-treating in crowded areas, self-selecting candy, or touching of candy or candy dishes
  • Go to crowded bars or restaurants that are not adhering to capacity limits, mask wearing or other COVID-19 safety guidance
  • Ask the bartender for a drink after 11PM
  • Host “trunk” or treat events
  • Substitute a Halloween costume mask for a face covering or exchange masks or coverings with anyone else.

Harris did not say these are hard and fast rules or that there would be any violations for not following the guidelines.

Last month, several coronavirus cases were linked to breweries in neighboring Cabarrus County.

Cabarrus County health officials investigated eight virus cases connected to a Kannapolis brewery. The Cabarrus Health Alliance says the cases were linked to Old Armor Beer Company.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.