"Since March 2020, 405 special events applications have been canceled or rescheduled and based on some external data we estimate that the economic impact for the event industry losses, in Austin, to be over a billion dollars," said Austin Center for Events Public Information Officer Sara Henry.
Henry says the pandemic has not only hammered those in the events industry but negatively impacted "consumer confidence." She says "releasing these guidelines now indicates cautious optimism for events based on current COVID-19 conditions."
The guidance is extensive, but details are often left up to event organizers. For example "screenings are suggested," but what those screenings will look like is up to each venue. A "trained" safety coordinator is required for outdoor events and suggested for indoor events. But, there is no municipal training in place.
A City spokesperson suggested safety coordinators review the guidelines released Friday.
Guidelines range from social distancing measures to installing CDC-compliant HVAC systems. In most instances, the guidelines are just that, guidelines. The exception being events requiring special event permits.
Special event permit applications will now need to contain a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan, and approval is contingent on meeting the guidelines.
Jeannette Gregor, co-founder of the Amplify Sound Coalition, a service industry support and advocacy group, bartender, and furloughed music industry worker worries some of the guidelines are financially unattainable for small businesses. She hopes the city will help them by waiving permit fees and providing funding.
"These are the businesses that haven’t been open or able to make money for the last year," she explained.
"Austin Public Health reviewed key indicators which have been moving in the right direction," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, in a news release. "We actually have a glimpse of normalcy as a reward of the hard work our community has done to protect each other with masking and hygiene practices but to make this a reality, we have to stay vigilant in the protection of ourselves and our community. If we see a surge in cases and hospitalizations, we have the flexibility to reconsider the scale of the event, modify the mitigation strategies, or cancel if needed."
Officials say the special event industry has asked city officials for these guidelines and the guidelines were developed in partnership with local public safety agencies including Austin Public Health and Austin Center for Events and with Austin’s event industry leaders.
"Dr. Escott’s announcement is a celebration of Austin residents and businesses protecting one another by masking up, keeping a six-foot distance from others, and washing our hands. Our city's efforts have paid off and help us move closer to normalcy," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "Most venues and events that are happening now already have safety plans in place. Setting a community standard will help other venues and events as they come back. To reopen indoor and outdoor venues and events possible and to ease back into pre-pandemic life, all of us must remain steadfast in our efforts to protect ourselves and one another — this includes continued masking, even for those who have already received the vaccine."
Below are a few of the facilities in Austin and their plans under the new guidelines.
AUSTIN PUBLIC LIBRARY
Austin Public Library Department has announced The Austin Central Library will begin hosting private events and facility rentals beginning April 1, 2021 on a limited basis and at a reduced capacity. All events must receive approval by local health authorities and adhere to Austin–Travis County COVID-19 safety guidelines. More information is located on the rental page.
AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER, PALMER EVENTS CENTER
Austin Convention Center Department has been given authorization by Austin Public Health to operate at 25% capacity and is expecting percentages to rise as the number of vaccinations increase. For more information visit Austin Convention Center or Palmer Events Center sites.
AUSTIN PARKS AND RECREATION DEPARTMENT
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) continues to evaluate re-opening PARD facilities according to the City of Austin’s COVID-19 Risk Based Guidelines and in consultation with public health authorities. The reopening of picnic sites, event buildings, or special event sites will occur as conditions allow and in consideration of the reopening guidelines for specific sites. For more information on current PARD facility operations, visit austintexas.gov/parkclosures.