Fears of the coronavirus brought Austin city officials to cancel the major technology, film and music festival South by Southwest, just seven days before it starts during spring break.
Austin City Mayor Steve Adler declared a “local disaster” and issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW by recommendation of Austin public health officer, director of public health and consultation with the city manager, at a press conference March 6. The cancellation means a great economic hit to the area and artists who rely on SXSW for business growth.
The festival had a $356 million impact last year, according to a report released by the company.
Austin city officials faced public pressure to cancel SXSW, as it brings in people from all over the world—more than 100,000 last year. Last year, 26% of total attendees were from 105 countries outside of the U.S.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has not reached Travis or Hays counties but multiple people are under quarantine in San Antonio.
“(The cancellation) was an effort to carefully consider and weigh the risk of introducing the spread of COVID-19,” Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at the press conference. “After careful deliberation, there was no acceptable path forward that would mitigate the risk enough to protect our community.”
EMS System Medical Director for the City of Austin and Travis County also announced the signing of a companion declaration, applying to festival gatherings that are attracting individuals of countries of person to person transmission of COVID-19. The declaration lasts seven days and is up for renewal as requested.
The cancellation comes just days after Austin public health officials said no good would come from the cancellation of the festival. However, a petition was also posted on a solutions platform, Change, to cancel the event and reached 55,126 supporters.
Adler said all ramifications including the economic impact to the city are second to health.
“It’s really unfortunate to cancel South by Southwest; it’s a really important event to the city in a lot of ways, tied to who we are in this city,” Adler said. “I look forward to the next generation of South by when it comes back.”
Leading up to its start on March 13, public concerns of the global pandemic led multiple major companies and speakers to drop from the festival lineup, including Facebook, Amazon and Apple.
SXSW released a statement the same day as the press release stating its devastation to cancel for the first time in 34 years. The company is exploring options to reschedule the event and stated it will be in touch with registrants and clients.
“We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses–venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts,” the press release states. “Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose–helping creative people achieve their goals.”
Texas State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication has been sending a student media “street team” to cover the festival’s events since 2008. This is the first year the selected group of students will not be attending due to the cancellation.
Anne Cox, digital media innovation senior, was part of the street team last year and was accepted to be part of the street team for a second time this year. She saw the news about the cancellation on Twitter before being contacted by the program adviser.
“Its best we’re being safe,” Cox said. “(Being on the SXSW street team) is an amazing opportunity, so it really is a rough situation that (first time) seniors won’t be able to take part in it.”
Austin public health officials will issue a series of public health orders in the coming days to enhance community preparation and protection of COVID-19.