Austin's top health official: Closing SXSW for the coronavirus will not make community safer at this time

COVID-19, commonly referred to as novel coronavirus, has been confirmed in 59 individuals in the U.S. (Rendering courtesy U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
COVID-19, commonly referred to as novel coronavirus, has been confirmed in 59 individuals in the U.S. (Rendering courtesy U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

COVID-19, commonly referred to as novel coronavirus, has been confirmed in 59 individuals in the U.S. (Rendering courtesy U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Austin/Travis County's top public health official said March 4 that there are no plans to shut down the South by Southwest festival amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"There is no evidence that closing SXSW or other activities is going to make this community safer," Austin/Travis County Medical Director Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference. "If there is any evidence that our community will be safer by closing down events, we will do that."

Escott said existing case studies do not show that holding large events, such as festivals, changes the magnitude of an infectious outbreak; however, he said there is some evidence that large events could move the virus "sooner than [it] may have been otherwise."

Escott also emphasized the importance of hygiene in containing the virus.

Escott said the illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, is less severe than past infectious outbreaks, such as ebola, SARS and MERS. He added that the coronavirus has had a sub-1% death rate outside of the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified at the end of 2019.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the health and safety of the community is the top priority and that if health officials recommend shutting down the festival, "we will immediately implement the recommendation."

Escott said health officials are worried about the negative health effects of shutting down SXSW, and that severe economic loss often has a trickle-down effect to public health. He also said SXSW officials have been vigilant about taking extra precautions and informing the community about risks and health tips. To lose SXSW's help by shutting down the festival, he said, would hurt the community's effort to inform and advise.

The city and festival officials have put together a five-phase plan for preparation and response to the coronavirus. Read more about that here.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


Photo of the Travis County building and sign
Travis County lays out initial funding framework for American Rescue Plan Act allocation

The first round of funding will support programs initially established with Coronavirus Relief Funds.

West Austin's Lions Municipal Golf Course was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016 due to its significance in the civil rights movement as the first Southern golf course to desegregate. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austinites share their hopes for Muny golf course's future

The Lions Municipal Golf Course is part of a University of Texas-owned property that may be rezoned by the city of Austin over the coming months.

Waterloo Park will open to the public Aug. 14 with a daylong festival, and its Moody Amphitheater is set to host its first ticketed concert Aug. 20. (Courtesy Waterloo Greenway Conservancy)
PHOTOS: Waterloo Park will open Aug. 14 with full-day festival, host Gary Clark Jr. for first ticketed concert Aug. 20

The 11-acre park on Waller Creek features an amphitheater, trails, gardens, play spaces, and a food truck area.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session will begin July 8. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session to start July 8

Agenda items will be announced before the session begins, according to a release from the governor's office.

Photo of fireworks in downtown Austin
Austin June and July events: fireworks, gallery openings and more

The Austin Symphony's Fourth of July fireworks show is back this year at Vic Mathias Shores.

Photo of an outdoor fort art exhibit
'Fortlandia' art installation coming to Butler Hike and Bike Trail

The interactive outdoor art exhibit was originally part of the popular "Fortlandia" event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 2020.

The Lions Municipal Golf Course is part of one of four University of Texas-owned properties that could move through Austin's rezoning process over the coming months. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Public feedback process now open for rezoning of 4 UT-owned properties, including West Austin's Muny golf course

An initial public engagement session covering the Brackenridge tracts, where Muny is located, will be held June 21.

The project at Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard will feature two six-story office towers, a parking garage and several acres of rehabilitated green space. (Courtesy Gensler)
Springdale Green developers detail plans for recently approved East Austin office and restoration project

The site will include a pair of six-story office towers and nearly 20 acres of restored natural space with an expected completion date set for late 2023.

The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

A 10-week construction project on North Pleasant Valley Road begins June 21. (Courtesy Fotolia)
North Pleasant Valley Road construction project in East Austin begins June 21

The project, funded by a 2018 Bond, will cause some lane closures

Washington Prime Group Inc. owns six area shopping centers, including The Arboretum. (Courtesy The Arboretum)
Owner of Austin-area shopping centers files for bankruptcy; entertainment complex coming to Cedar Park and more top area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.