No free treats to start spring: Rita's Italian Ice cancels Free Ice Day due to COVID-19

Anthony DiMattia
Bucks County Courier Times

Blame COVID-19 for killing another annual tradition.

Rita's Italian Ice announced this week it was canceling its popular Free Ice Day that is held each year on March 20, the first day of spring, due to the pandemic.

The news likely will be a downer for the thousands known to swarm to the eateries to grab a free, sweet treat on the first day of spring each year. 

While its stores are open for business, the company said it made the move to cancel Free Ice Day to "keep everyone safe."

"While we can’t celebrate together, we plan on celebrating those who have been keeping us safe throughout the year," the company said in a social media post. "Don’t worry, we’re still open for business, and we look forward to seeing you soon."

For nearly nearly 30 years, Rita's has offered its famous free water ice giveaway at its eateries that has expanded to more than 600 locations in over 30 states.

Rita's was started in Bensalem, Bucks County, Pa., in 1984 by Philadelphia firefighter Bob Tumolo, who named the business after his wife after including fresh fruit to his family’s recipe.

The move comes as states rush to distribute COVID vaccines to residents. 

Pennsylvania COVID vaccine

In Pennsylvania, some counties are questioning the state's rollout with more than half of the vaccine distributed in recent weeks went to only 11 counties. Officials from suburban Philadelphia counties have demanded the National Guard take over distribution of the vaccine to better administer shots

Pa. vaccine:Where's the COVID vaccine? These 11 Pennsylvania counties got more than half of doses in last 2 weeks

Vaccine shortage:Bucks, Montgomery county lawmakers demand action on mismanaged vaccines

New Jersey COVID vaccine

Meanwhile in New Jersey, experts are warning residents to continue wearing masks and avoid crowded places despite a recent trend of rising vaccinations and COVID positivity rates.

This despite New Jersey one of the most stringent states adhering to mask wearing and social distancing protocols.

COVID in NJ:NJ has been more relaxed about social distancing. Here's why that has experts worried

Vaccine sites:Need a COVID vaccine in NJ? This list tells you which sites have appointments available

Delaware COVID vaccine

In Delaware, the state is diving deeper into phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine plan, beginning to offer vaccines to a wider swath of essential workers in addition to people 65 and older.

The state began the pivot last week when it announced plans to expand vaccine opportunities for teachers, school staff and child care workers and to begin offering vaccines to poultry plants.

Delaware vaccine:Delaware preparing to expand pool of essential workers receiving the vaccine

Delaware COVID:Tracking coronavirus cases in Delaware

Maryland COVID vaccine

Nearby in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans Tuesday to lift capacity limits at restaurants, gyms, houses of worship and other venues as COVID metrics continue to improve and more residents slowly gain access to vaccines.

Masks and social distancing are still required to block the spread of the virus, Hogan said at a news conference in Annapolis.

Restaurants and other retail establishments have for months been limited to 50% capacity. As of Friday, those capacity limits no longer in effect.

Maryland COVID:Hogan lifts capacity limits on Maryland restaurants and other businesses

Vaccine locations:COVID-19 in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia: How do I sign up to get the vaccine?