This year’s Route 11 Yard Crawl has been canceled, the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce has announced.

The latest large outdoor event canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yard Crawl joins area county fairs in downgrading or outright canceling events to help quell the spread of illness around the valley.

Billed as Virginia’s largest yard sale, the Yard Crawl stretches approximately 43 miles along U.S. 11 from Stephens City to New Market and typically includes private residences, businesses and popup vendors who set out tables of sale items in parking lots and fields along the route.

Scheduled for the second Saturday in August, this would have been its 16th year, according to the event’s Facebook page.

“It’s sad for our businesses that were relying on the income of up to 30% more than they usually do,” said Sharon Baroncelli, president of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event.

The Yard Crawl, which every year attracts thousands of visitors from around Virginia and other states, is a boon for area restaurants, hotels and small businesses, she said. Though officially a one-day event, the Yard Crawl has inspired additional yard sales on adjoining days, encouraging tourism dollars from bargain-hunters and summer travelers alike.

“We were trying to make it happen because of our businesses,” Baroncelli said.

“Although the event is outside, there are sites where you could have 50 plus people, and they could be distanced, but they’re still going to 50 other sites,” she said. “We couldn’t overcome the issues that the Department of Health brought up with us.”

In a statement at the Yard Crawl’s Facebook page and website, route11yardcrawl.org, the chamber said it based its decision to cancel on a written recommendation from the Lord Fairfax Health District of the Virginia Department of Health:

“I recommend in the strongest terms that the Route 11 Yard Crawl be cancelled this year, or at least postponed until next spring, when we hope to have a vaccine against COVID-19,” the recommendation reads.

“The nature of the Yard Crawl, with 43 miles of yard sales and flea markets, creates a situation where a person might easily come in contact with hundreds of others in a day,” it continues.

“Combined with the low likelihood of good compliance with masking and social distancing in that environment, and the repeated picking up and handling of items by multiple people, the level of interpersonal contact sets up the risk for rapid and multiple spread of COVID-19, on the level recently seen at the beaches. Add to this the number of older people likely to participate in the Yard Crawl, and the known presence of COVID-19 in both Shenandoah and Frederick Counties, we could find ourselves facing a catastrophic deadly outbreak in the Valley.”

Though Virginia has seen less of an influx of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks than many other states have since attempting reopening efforts, Shenandoah County has led the health district in cases since the Health Department started recording cases in mid-March.

On Thursday, the Health Department reported 649 cases of COVID-19 in Shenandoah County since the start of the pandemic, with Frederick County following closely with 614 cases.

Shenandoah has reported 70 hospitalizations and 40 deaths from the coronavirus over the last four months, and Frederick has reported 46 hospitalizations and seven deaths.

“It’s a disease of proximity, [Health Director] Dr. [Colin] Greene shared with us,” Baroncelli explained. During the Yard Crawl, she said, “There’s just so many people and so many places.”

Though she said participating organizations, vendors and owners of large sites have been understanding of the decision, that hasn’t made it any easier.

“We’re frustrated,” she said. “Everyone’s understanding, it’s when you get to Facebook and see some of the comments … the disregard and rudeness and meanness.”

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, there were 283 comments on the announcement posted Wednesday at the Yard Crawl Facebook page, ranging in tone from understanding to anger to disregard.

“This is a big economic driver for our community,” Baroncelli said on Thursday. “We took into account everyone and everything as much as possible.”

With the pandemic disrupting local business, the chamber has taken other steps to ease the impact.

In May, it hosted a GivingTuesday event to encourage donations to area nonprofits — a one-time event inspired by the chamber’s participation in the global GivingTuesday event each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

On Monday, the chamber will launch another community-based campaign to encourage the support of local small businesses.

“We’re just calling it a ‘We love you’ [campaign],” Baroncelli said.

“Businesses are still open and here because of our community,” she explained. “It’s one way that we can thank the community … to remind the community to shop local because our businesses are hurting right now.”

The campaign, she said, seeks to tell shoppers, “Thank you for supporting us. We love you.”

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com