At the end of February, a concerned Austin citizen Shayla Lee started a petition on Change.org to cancel SXSW due to the widespread panic of COVID-19 aka the Coronavirus. The goal was to get 35K signatures. It’s now at 33K and growing.
Will this petition actually lead to anything?
While SXSW organizers address COVID-19 on their site and stated they’re working with local, state and federal agencies to keep a safe and healthy environment for their attendees, they have no plans to cancel. The SXSW site includes the Austin Public Health (APH) update on their plans for SXSW, saying, “APH will continue to communicate with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and health departments nationwide as many cities host large events. At this time, no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low.”
Some large companies have pulled out of the festival, though, including Facebook, Intel and Twitter. “Twitter is implementing a mandatory global business travel restriction for our employees, effective immediately. This, unfortunately, includes SXSW,” a Twitter spokesperson told Deadline.
Ticketholders we spoke to weren’t fazed about Facebook, et al, dropping out. In fact, the tech companies’ absence has them more excited for the festival. “Those companies didn’t even have anything to do with the festival in the first place,” one says. Another adds: “Plus, the people signing the petition are probably mostly Austin-natives who hate SXSW anyways.”
The petition accuses SXSW organizers of being irresponsible for holding their large-scale gathering during an outbreak, voicing concern about children immune-compromised, elderly and diabetic and asthmatic people threatened by the virus. One commenter writes “SXSW happening at a time like this is criminal.”
SXSW generates hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy for Austin—making over $350.6 million in 2018 and $355 million in 2019. Pulling the plug shortly before the start of the festival would be a huge financial blow to the city. And the risk posed by the festival is uncertain. Out of the top current countries registered to attend the festival, only two have only over 100 confirmed cases of the virus (Japan and Germany).
It seems unlikely the festival will be canceled, though more corporations may decide to skip it this year. Basically, if you have a weak immune system, you shouldn’t attend SXSW. And, of course, for those going, make sure to take extra precautions like those laid out by the World Health Organization.