Austin Public Health to SXSW: 'Keep calm and carry on, y'all'
The Austin Public Health Department has spoken: SXSW is still on, despite the city investigating at least one possible case of coronavirus, and a wave of brands dropping out due to the outbreak.
“We are actively evaluating mass gatherings on a daily basis,” Dr. Mark Escott, medical director for Austin Public Health, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We have no evidence that closing SXSW or other activities would make this community safer.”
Although, Escott did admit that mass gatherings could make the disease spread “sooner” than it “may have otherwise.”
Escott confirmed that the city is currently testing “a person or persons” for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. Still, he said Austin had investigated similar cases “more than 75 times over the past six weeks” and they all came back negative. “Today, the threat in Austin remains low,” Escott added.
As part of the evaluation into whether SXSW poses a risk to public health, Escott said a panel of health experts found that, even if they canceled the festival slated for March 13-22, people intending to travel to Austin during that time would likely still go “but without the organizational structure” that SXSW provides.
He said SXSW organizers are putting in place several measures to keep attendees safe, like screening all employees to ensure they are not ill before working; providing additional hand-washing stations and hand sanitizers; and placing signs around the festival to remind people to practice proper hygiene. Escott said Austin Public Health is also assessing ways to “lessen social contact" by possibly reducing the number of people allowed in venues.
“Panic will weaken us,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at the press conference. “Let's practice what our [mothers] taught us: let’s cover our sneezes, let’s wash our hands and let's be good neighbors. Keep calm and carry on, y'all.”
Austin City Mayor Steve Adler suggested at the press conference, too, that SXSW-goers “bow to one another” or “elbow bump” instead of shake hands.
Escott added that SXSW organizers did not have a say in the matter—this was a decision handed down by the city's public health officials only. Still, economic risk was taken into consideration.
“Canceling large events that affect the economy have downstream effects that are hard to quantify,” he said.
The decision follows several days of people speculating whether or not SXSW would be canceled or postponed after an increasing number of brands pulled out, including TikTok, Mashable and Intel, Facebook and Vevo, Twitter and most recently Amazon Studios.
Meanwhile, other industry events have been canceled, postponed or moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak, such as Adobe Summit 2020; Dubai Lynx, the Middle East creative festival owned in part by Cannes Lions parent Ascential; and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Fox News also became the first media company to cancel its upfront.