AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of thousands of people from across the world visit Austin to attend South By Southwest which starts next week on March 13, but over 14,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the festival due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Shayla Lee started the petition three days ago. She wrote that “having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak.”
Other locals have also expressed concerns about possible transmission of the disease, which is rapidly spreading. Globally, over 89,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. About 3,000 of those people died.
In the US, there are over 80 confirmed cases. Two are confirmed dead out of Washington state.
Impact of SXSW as featured speaker pulls out
Austin Public Health says there are “no imminent plans to postpone any current events,” including SXSW. If SXSW were to cancel, the economic impact would be immense. Last year’s conference had an estimated economic impact of $355.9 million.
Despite that, headliners such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have pulled out, which SXSW confirmed. This follows a blog post from Twitter on Sunday where they said the company was banning “all non-critical business travel and events.”
Some groups have also canceled, including China Gathering, who announced in an open letter on their website that the last few months have been difficult deciding to “suspend the program.”
SXSW Festival safety
The festival includes an attendee safety page on its website with updates about the coronavirus. Their latest update on March 1 states:
SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event. As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority.
In guidelines posted on its website, Austin Public Health said it is “closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation,” and has developed a five-phase plan to coordinate response activities.
- Phase 1: Persons Under Monitoring
- Phase 2: Persons Under Investigation (Testing in Progress)
- Phase 3: Confirmed Case (No Person-to-Person spread)
- Phase 4: Limited Person-to-Person Spread (Close/Household Contacts)
- Phase 5: Sustained Person-to-Person Spread in the Community
No health departments in Texas have requested the cancellation of any events at this time, as the risk of person-to-person spread remains low, Austin Public Health said.
Regarding SXSW, the health department said:
The health of the Austin community and those who visit our City is our highest priority. APH coordinates with South by Southwest (SXSW) annually to monitor and prepare for any public health emergencies during the festival – this year is no different. While in flu season, APH is working with SXSW to disseminate disease prevention messaging to help keep attendees and the entire Austin community safe. APH is also working with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor and prepare for any local cases of COVID-19.AUSTIN PUBLIC HEALTH