After declaring a state of local disaster, Austin Mayor Steve Adler canceled South by Southwest at a press conference Friday afternoon. According to an official statement from SXSW, this is the first time in 34 years the event has not taken place.
The announcement comes after cases of COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, have continued to increase in the United States, with 17 confirmed cases in Texas, according to The New York Times.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health, said the decision to cancel was based on information from an expert advisory panel and several risk factors, including the size and magnitude of the event, nature of the venue and close person-to-person contact that could occur.
“We had to weigh what the impact of the potential threat is compared to the impact of the decision to cancel the event,” Escott said. “There’s evidence that (SXSW would have) accelerated the spread of COVID-19.”
Adler said the potential economic ramifications regarding the cancellation are secondary to the health of the community.
The event is different than other mass events because SXSW is not just limited to Texas residents, Escott said.
“There is the potential of bringing people from areas where there is (an) active transmission (of the) disease to our areas, (which) could … cause an outbreak sooner,” Escott said.
Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health, said this decision does not mean that all mass events need to be canceled. However, each one will need to implement a disease mitigation plan.
“Panic will weaken us,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “This is not a panic-based decision. This decision (to cancel) is based on expert opinion.”
The announcement came after Gov. Greg Abbott said on Thursday in a press conference that the decision to cancel SXSW was up to local officials.
“Whether it be the city officials or the local health officials, (it’s up to) them to work in collaboration and for them to make the right decision,” Abott said.
SXSW posted an official statement on Twitter immediately following the announcement.
“We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation,” SXSW tweeted. “… This situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to protect staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.”
Escott said the most important precaution Austin community members can take is avoiding public places if they are feeling sick.
“There are no confirmed cases in Travis County, but the threat is growing,” Escott said. “Now is not the time to panic, but time to prepare. Now is the time for our community to prepare for this storm.”