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.


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