Travis County continues to monitor coronavirus risk for Rodeo Austin, other upcoming mass events

A photo of Travis County officials presenting to the commissioners court.
Travis County officials gave an update on the county's developing response to the novel coronavirus at a March 10 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court. (Courtesy Travis County)

Travis County officials gave an update on the county's developing response to the novel coronavirus at a March 10 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court. (Courtesy Travis County)

Following the declaration of a local state of disaster in Travis County and the city of Austin regarding the novel coronavirus, county officials continue to evaluate the risks associated with mass gatherings, including Rodeo Austin, which is slated to run March 14-28.

The disaster declaration, which County Judge Sarah Eckhardt signed last week along with Austin Mayor Greg Adler, prohibits mass gatherings of 2,500 or more people to move forward without expressed approval from relevant city or county authorities. The Travis County Commissioners Court affirmed the declaration at a March 10 meeting, voting unanimously to extend the declaration until such time the body decides to rescind it.

At present, Rodeo Austin—held at Luedecke Arena, which has stadium seating for 6,400—plans to proceed, although local authorities are continuing to monitor the event’s risk, according to discussion at the March 10 meeting.

In a presentation to the court, Don Hastings, Assistant Director of Austin Public Health’s Environmental Health Services Division, said county health officials are considering crowd density, origin of attendees, age of attendees and event duration when assessing the risk of a given event. Events that draw primarily state and local visitors are more likely to persist, according to county staff—a qualification that includes the rodeo, according to Rodeo Austin officials.

“As much as I’d love to believe Rodeo Austin is a global phenomenon, it’s really a local event,” Rodeo Austin CEO Rob Golding said at the commissioners’ March 10 meeting.

Rodeo Austin is in the unusual position of being located in both the city of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and Travis County’s unincorporated area and is therefore working with both the city and county to put in place satisfactory social distancing and health measures to prevent the spread of disease.

Other local events, including Luck Reunion, an annual music festival held at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch in Spicewood, are also working with the county to make adjustments in response to coronavirus concerns. As that event nears, representatives worry about the financial impact of a last-minute cancellation—like that of the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals.

“A cancellation this week or next week would be a fatal blow to our organization,” Luck Reunion co-founder Matt Bizer said.

Thus far, no active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been reported in Travis County, although multiple individuals have been tested, according to county health officials.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.


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