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Organizers postpone Lowcountry Oyster Festival citing rise in COVID-19 cases

Waiting in line

Hundreds of people wait in line for the Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation on Sunday, January 26, 2020. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

A restaurant group affiliated with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has rescinded plans to throw an oyster extravaganza for 5,000 people in January.

“Since we first announced the event date, (COVID-19) case and positivity rates have increased significantly,” a statement attributed to the charitable arm of the Lowcountry Hospitality Association explains.

South Carolina recorded 1,297 cases with a 17.6 percent positivity rate on Dec. 1, the day on which the group announced it would host the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens. The upward trajectory of cases dating back to October has since continued to trend skyward, with S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Tuesday reporting 2,303 cases with a 19.9 percent positivity rate.

According to the statement, the festival has been postponed rather than canceled.

A publicist for the organization declined to comment on rescheduling; she would not say if the CVB has identified a number of cases or positivity rate which would put its plans back in motion.

“We believe that a decision ahead of the holidays is the most prudent and considerate course of action with the information available at this time,” Charleston Restaurant Foundation President Jonathan Kish of Queen Street Hospitality said in the statement, adding that ticket buyers will receive full refunds.

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While a publicist wouldn’t say how many tickets were sold, response from the local restaurant community was swift. Several prominent restaurant owners privately expressed outrage over the prospect of a mass gathering when the industry is already reeling from the pandemic’s consequences.

Despite chatter among operators about pulling out of the Lowcountry Hospitality Association, spokeswoman Tori Beth Black said the group has not lost any members since the event was announced.

It did lose at least one charity partner, though. A spokesperson for the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center last week told The Post and Courier, “Given the dynamics around the COVID-19 pandemic, we would not be able to participate in (the) event either as a beneficiary or in a volunteer capacity.”

Black would not reveal the breakdown of the board vote removing the event from the Jan. 31 calendar.

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

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