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Lowcountry Oyster Festival invites thousands to its shucking tables as SC COVID cases rise

Lowcountry Oyster Festival

Rodney Zurcher throws an oyster shell into a recycling bin during the Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation in January 2020. The festival, which is billed as the largest oyster festival in the world, featured over 60,000 oysters. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

The Lowcountry Oyster Festival, which annually brings in thousands of shellfish fans to down oyster shooters and shuck shoulder-to-shoulder, will proceed as planned in January, the Lowcountry Hospitality Association announced this week.

Although state officials allowed organizers to admit 7,000 people to the event, which required an exemption from the executive order limiting mass gatherings to 250 attendees, board president Jonathan Kish says his group has decided to cap the Jan. 31 crowd at 5,000 people.

In a typical year, the Lowcountry Oyster Festival would draw 13,000 people, Kish says.

“Seeing as we are a charitable organization and this is our only fundraiser, this event determines if we will be able to help our local and regional charitable efforts,” Kish says of the rationale for proceeding with the standard program, despite surging rates of COVID-19 statewide.

He adds, “If we do decide to cancel the event due to COVID, (we) will refund 100 percent of the cost of a ticket ... This should give our patrons comfort they have no risk purchasing a ticket in advance.”

The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition also announced this week it plans to move ahead with its February 2021 event, albeit at 25 percent capacity. The Charleston Wine + Food Festival, which usually takes over Marion Square weeks after SEWE vacates it, this summer cancelled its March 2021 event

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Kish says the Lowcountry Hospitality Association, an arm of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is implementing various safety measures to enhance social distancing.

For example, the group is setting up multiple retail tents at Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens instead of one central tent. It has also eliminated cash transactions, allowing it to dispense with a 1600-square-foot tent it usually erects for cash processing.

“Since we are saving all this space, we are sectioning it off so that our patrons can have their own personal space,” Kish says.

But for the most part, the event will remain intact: The shucking and eating contests are scheduled to start at noon, and ticketholders will have access to a food court and kids’ area.

Attendees are asked to wear masks, but the event website clarifies that expectation doesn’t apply if they’re “enjoying oysters or cold beer” at what’s billed as the world’s biggest oyster festival.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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