Central Texas festival cancelled amid coronavirus concerns

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SALADO, Texas (KWTX) Central Texas is seeing its first major event cancellation due to fears of the coronavirus.

The 2020 Texas Wine & Rogue Art Fest in Salado has been cancelled. (Photo by Clint Webb)

"We're afraid that people won't want to go to large gatherings," said June Ritterbusch, owner and winemaker at Salado Winery. "There seems to be a lot of risk right now."

Salado Winery's Texas Wine & Rogue Art Festival has been called off.

"This is our 12th year so we're really sad since we've had such a good, long run," said Ritterbusch.

The two-day event, which would have been March 28-29, draws about 3,500 people to the Village of Salado who taste wine, eat food, and buy art from 60-70 vendors.

"We sell a few hundred cases of wine usually, and as many as 29,000 tastings of wine," said Ritterbusch.

She didn't have an exact figure of the revenue lost by not hosting this year's event, even the tasting glasses had already been purchased, but she says they'll be okay.

"We hope people will understand and we'll be back at it next year," said Ritterbusch.

Festival-goers get their own glass to taste wine and every vendor is required, per state law, to have hand sanitizer readily-available.

However, with the new coronavirus adding to the uncertainties of weather and construction happening in downtown Salado, Ritterbusch made the call to pull the plug on this year's event before others invested too much into it.

"We're trying to look out for the small businesses and I wanted to be able to give them their money back now instead of them coming, setting up, and then having a disappointing turnout," said Ritterbusch.

One of those small businesses is Kissing Tree Vineyards.

"It's a pretty big festival, pretty important," said owner and winemaker Chris Grider. "But a lot goes into a festival, and I totally understand, the organizers are being courteous."

Chris and his wife Crystal run the family-owned business with locations in Eddy and downtown Waco.

This would have been KTV's fourth year selling wine at the festival.

"Part of our business is selling wine here at the testing room, but part of our business is also going to festivals, meeting people face-to-face, advertising, as well as selling wine at those festivals," said Crystal Grider. "If the festivals are canceling, then that's definitely going to impact us."

The Griders are hoping everything will blow over and not become a trend.

"I really do hope that no other events or festivals get caught up in the hype," said Chris Grider. "Does anybody remember the swine flu? I think it done flown."

According to Austin Public Health, as of Wednesday no health departments in the state have requested cancellation of any gatherings "as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low."

The City of Waco has prepared a statement to ease fears about COVID-19 and limit the effects it could have on events at the Waco Convention Center.

"The Waco Convention Center staff receives regular updates on the status of the flu and COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus) from the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. At this time the number of flu cases are on their normal seasonal decline and NO cases of COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus) have been reported or confirmed in McLennan County. The overall risk for the State of Texas as reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services is “low”. As with any virus, frequent hand washing, covering your cough and sneeze and staying home or away from groups if you feel sick are the best recommendations per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Precautionary measures include enhancing onsite communications, placing an increased number of hand sanitizer stations throughout the building, increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched objects, and providing ongoing training for staff and partners regarding best practices for providing a safe and healthy environment.

We will keep staff, event organizers and attendees updated on any further developments through postings on our websites and social media."

As of Wednesday, there had been no coronavirus-related event cancellations in the Waco area, according to the city's spokesman.