Austin Public Health ‘closely monitoring’ coronavirus amid petition to cancel SXSW

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is making millions worry, and with SXSW on the way, concerns are rapidly growing.

“This is a virus and we know it's going to spread like viruses do. A lot of what we are being told is to wash our hands. It's been advised we do some elbow bumping instead of handshaking,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 20,000 people have signed a petition to cancel SXSW due to coronavirus concerns.

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“The decision whether or not to cancel SXSW is being evaluated daily and daily reevaluated. Right now the recommendation and instruction from the public health officers is that we should not be canceling it because it's not going to make the city more or less safe if we do,” said Adler.

Austin Public Health says they are coordinating with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the CDC and health agencies statewide. APH is also initiating a five-phase plan to coordinate a response to the virus. 

“We are always concerned about mass gatherings. It's something we are looking at on a day to day basis because the situation is rapidly evolving,” said Janet Pichette, chief epidemiologist at Austin Public Health.

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So far there are no reported cases in Travis County and keeping it that way could be a challenge.

“I’m not too worried about it. But there are so many memes on the internet about it so you feel like you have to be worried,” said visitor Maeve O’Donnell-Pax.


“I’m pretty concerned about it. I make them all wash their hands when they get into the house,” said Breet Paglieri, speaking about his friends he traveled to Austin with.

Maria Marquez is a nurse who lives in Austin and has concerns but she doesn’t think the festival needs to be canceled.

“You can’t stop living your life. I don’t think it should be canceled but I think we all need to be aware,” she said.


Adler says Austinites should trust public health officials in this situation.

“This is a city that is poised and ready to deal with crises, also potential harms and hazards,” said Adler.

Facebook confirmed Monday evening that they will be pulling out of SXSW due to the coronavirus, making it the second company in the last two days to drop out of the annual conference. Twitter released a statement on its blog Sunday that it was "suspending all non-critical business travel and events," meaning CEO Jack Dorsey, who was originally scheduled as a keynote speaker, will not be coming to Austin.