‘How bad do we want ACL’, Austin health officials ask

Austin city health officials say the fate of the Austin City Limits music festival is still up in the air.

The final decision will depend on hospital admissions and case numbers, which the health department called an evolving situation. All signs at Zilker Park point to ACL taking over for the first two weekends of October as planned, although the event seems less certain than many expected it to be by now.

"We are continuing to watch the situation with our case count, as well as the situation with our hospitals, and we are going to provide as much guidance as we can to the organizers of that festival about whether or not it’s safe to proceed," said Adrienne Sturrup, interim APH director.

Health department officials said COVID-19 cases appear to be leveling off and hospital admissions dropping, but area hospitals are still overwhelmed.

"We have people who need ICU care who are not in ICU and they’re not being cared for by ICU nurses because we’re stretching our nursing staff," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin- Travis County health authority.

Nearby hospitals are also feeling the heat, as patients who would normally transfer into Austin hospitals for specialized care are being told to stay put.

"At one point, during the early part of the week, we had over 20 folks waiting to be transferred into Austin-Travis County for care. Five of those were Covid issues and the rest were people who needed help with things like strokes and heart attacks," Walkes said.

In order to prevent another spike in cases, the Austin Center for Events posted safety requirements for event organizers. One of them says all attendees must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event. However, Friday morning Austin Public Health officials suggested there’s a second option.

"The organizers are putting in place mitigation strategies that were used at Lollapalooza in Chicago. People are expected to be either vaccinated or have a negative test and, as a result of that, that provides a level of safety and decreased risk that we are going to be looking at as we make our decision," said Walkes.

A statement from Austin Regional Clinic says they’re already preparing for ACL. It reads, in part, 

"We expect to see an increase in COVID testing needs throughout the city, and certainly at ARC clinics, the few days before the ACL music festival. Our staff is prepared to meet the uptick in demand and we’ll make it easy to book online."

Ultimately, city health officials said it’s up to people in Austin whether the show will go on.

"I think it’s also a question for the community. How bad do we want ACL? Part of that decision is in the hands of the actions that we choose to take up until then," Sturrup said.

One thing APH said won’t happen is for ACL to offer rapid testing on site. Health professionals said it’s just not possible to implement that at such a large event.

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