As COVID-19 cases in Lowcountry increase, some municipalities responded by canceling large-scale festive events in December, such as parades and tree lighting.
Others went ahead with annual traditions, despite state health warnings to limit crowds and meetings.
Some announced events for the new year that would receive thousands of participants, such as the Southeast Wildlife Exhibition.
That’s because each South Carolina municipality has the ability to define its own rules for pandemic-era events, as long as those planning to have more than 250 guests get approval from the Governor’s Office first.
This seal of approval is determined by an online application hosted by the state Department of Commerce. Of the more than 1,100 events submitted for approval this year, less than 100 have been rejected.
Among the list of green light events are gun shows, youth softball tournaments and MMA fights. The Murrells Inlet Boiled Peanut World Championship and Summerville’s Flowertown Festival are also on the list, the latter scheduled for March with the expectation of more than 10,000 participants.
Four pages of questions make up the online form, including inquiries about an estimated service interval, social distance protocols, face mask requirements, contactless payment options, disinfectant purchases and a coronavirus contraction plan.
Some rules are set in stone, with no room for maneuver. The number of participants in an internal event cannot exceed 50 percent of the fire marshal’s occupation, for example, while the number of participants in an external event cannot exceed 1,212 people per acre.
At the end of the form, the event organizer must sign the following declaration:
“I recognize and understand that hosting a major event during the COVID-19 pandemic carries the risk of patrons and participants catching and transmitting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Therefore, with this application, I certify that I will take all reasonable steps to mitigate the danger that my event can pose. “
Registration for approved events goes to local governments. For the city of Charleston, this means a special events committee that added a COVID-19 review board, with a medical professional and city planners.
According to the head of innovation, Tracy McKee, the city was experiencing a flurry of registrations leading up to the holiday season, but most decided on their own to go virtual or spin creatively to reduce the number of crowds. Events like SEWE are too far away to determine whether they will receive an official seal of approval yet, McKee said, but have received preliminary green light to continue planning.
“We are not saying no because we don’t even know what it’s going to be like next week, but we made it clear that we can turn off the plug at any time if we think it is in the public health’s best interest,” McKee said.
Everything goes back to the city’s reopening plan, which includes four phases, determined by several factors, from the occupation of the hospital to the number of cases and deaths.
Charleston is in Phase 3, but McKee said that if he goes back to Phase 2, it will effectively cancel all special events in the pipeline.
“We are using the best data and guidance from medical professionals,” said McKee. “Whenever we had to say no, I think people are, of course, disappointed, but in the end they understand.”
The Lowcountry Oyster Festival is under the jurisdiction of Charleston County, which has granted Boone Hall permission for special events with general approval so that operators do not have to go through the regular licensing process every time there is an event at the property.
But because of the rise in coronavirus cases in mid-December, the Charleston Restaurant Foundation decided to postpone the January 31 event.
“We appreciate the community’s understanding and continued support for this important charity event,” said Foundation President Jonathan Kish. “We look forward to sharing updates about the rescheduled Festival.”
As for the Flowertown Festival, it is up to the city of Summerville, where the proceedings are similar to those of the city of Mount Pleasant.
These rules are simple: each municipality has its own registration for special events, but the COVID-19 issues are determined by the form of the Governor’s Office.
“Typically, the moment an application is made for something more complicated than a standard shoot, block party or other simple event, our office talked to candidates and helped them assess feasibility and solve problems,” said the manager Nicole Harvey.
The Mount Pleasant holiday parade, one of the few in the area to take place later this year, does not go through the licensing process as it is the city’s own event.
Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.