The city of Austin, Texas, announced Friday that it is canceling South by Southwest amid health concerns over the current coronavirus outbreak.
The annual media festival, known as SXSW, was scheduled to kick off on March 13. The organizers said they hope to reschedule the event, which features film, music, technology, political and cultural experiences over a 10-day period.
“We are devastated to share this news with you. ‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place,” festival organizers said in a statement.
“After consultation with the city manager, I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at a press conference, “and associated with that have issued an order that cancels South by Southwest for this year.”
SXSW is a significant part of Austin’s economy this time of year ― a point that Texas Monthly and other local outlets noted in recent days as chatter about nixing the festival began swirling. Canceling SXSW will almost certainly have devastating effects on some people and small businesses that rely on the profits it brings during an otherwise slow winter month ― especially those who live paycheck-to-paycheck working in the service industry.
But as the number of COVID-19 cases began increasing this week, prompting the World Health Organization to issue warnings for vulnerable people to avoid large crowds, SXSW organizers found themselves in a tight spot.
“As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer,’” a statement from the festival read. “However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.”
As of Friday, the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. stands at 15 people ― 14 in Washington state and one in California. There have been 160 confirmed cases across the U.S. and nearly 100,000 worldwide.