AUSTIN, Texas - South by Southwest is just around the corner and despite concerns of COVID-19 spreading, public health officials announced Wednesday the show will go on as planned.
Officials with the Austin Public Health and the City of Austin said in a press conference on Wednesday that, right now, there is no evidence that closing SXSW or other activities are going to make the community safer. If there is any evidence that the community will be safer by closing down public events, the city will do that.
"Right now there's no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health Interim Medical Director and Health Authority. "I can tell you that one of the concerns is if we shut down or make the recommendation to shut down South by Southwest people will still continue to come here they will travel they will do what they were normally going to do but they will do that without that organizational structure that SxSW provides."
SXSW has said that at this point it has no plans to cancel or reschedule the festival.
In a statement on its website, officials with SXSW says that they are increasing efforts to prevent the disease per Austin Public Health's recommendations and that they are urging travelers to follow the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation to practice usual precautions.
More than 500,000 people will be traveling to attend the tech, film and music conferences held downtown. Pressure to cancel the event has risen, Austinite’s have petitioned to shut the conference down. Multiple high-profile companies like Facebook and TikTok have since pulled out.
The city of Austin looked to Austin Public Health to determine the risk. APH has met with South by Southwest to determine mitigation efforts. Dr. Escott said people will see handwashing stations available for attendees and signs to remind people about personal hygiene. Escott said SxSW is taking an additional step of screening South by Southwest employees and volunteers for illnesses.
Transportation is also going the extra mile, CapMetro has begun applying disinfectant to common hand contact areas such as handrails and armrests. Austin Public Health is following a 5-phase plan to monitor and respond to possible cases. Austin Public Health is currently in phase 2 monitoring at least one possible case in the Travis county area.
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"This disease is bad it's probably more deadly than the flu, but it's not Ebola it's not SARS it's not MERS the likelihood now is that the case fatality rate is less than one percent," said Dr. Escott.
"Panic will weaken us,” said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. “Let's do what our mother's taught us, let's cover our sneezes, let's wash our hands and let's be good neighbors."
A petition was been started on change.org that's asking SXSW to be canceled. The person who started says she's concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be traveling to Austin for the conference and festivals.
According to Dr. Escott, the threat of community spread in Austin remains low but that they are still prepared for it to happen here. “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 Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
A South by Southwest spokesperson released this statement:
"As part of our ongoing coordination with state and local agencies to plan for the health and safety of our attendees, staff, and volunteers, SXSW will be meeting with Austin Public Health today to discuss the findings of their most recent risk assessment."