AUSTIN, TX — In the wake of a local state of disaster declaration that forced the cancellation of the SXSW festival, mass gatherings of 2,500 people or more scheduled through May have been prohibited in Austin in light of the growing new coronavirus threat, officials announced Monday.
“Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the city of Austin is specifically focused on mass gatherings defined as a planned or spontaneous event with a large number of people in attendance that could strain the planning and response resources of the community hosting the event, such as concerts, festivals, conferences, worship services and sporting events,” city officials said in a news advisory.
“From now through May 1, events with 2,500 or more people are prohibited unless organizers are able to assure Austin Public Health that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place,” officials wrote. Each event will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, health officials added.
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To that end, Austin Public Health will conduct a risk assessment for every event of 2,500 or more people, including special events and permanently permitted venues with a capacity of 2,500 or more, officials said. Health officials added that an Evaluation Checklist has been developed to assess the level of risk associated with public events. “The checklist is intended for organizers and staff responsible for planning public or private events where a potential outbreak could strain the planning and response resources of the community hosting the event,” officials said.
Austin is in the midst of its spring festival season, marked by large gatherings of myriad interests. Among the biggest is the Pecan Street Festival in downtown Austin that lures thousands of attendees each year. That event is scheduled May 2-3, barely past the cutoff for the May 1 re-assesment set by health officials in added scrutiny. The Austin Food + Wine Festival scheduled April 24-26 also draws large crowds each spring. Also now in jeopardy of being canceled is the popular Austin Reggae Festival, the 28th annual version scheduled to take place at its traditional Auditorium Shores setting from April 17-19.
Another big annual gathering is the Republic of Texas (ROT) rally that brings tens of thousands of motorcyclists to the central business district each June — also beyond the date set by health officials for staged events subject to reassment.
Although no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Austin, city and county officials made the decision this past Friday to cancel the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) festival in an abudance of caution. The annual event drew more than 415,000 attendees last year, yielding an economic impact of $355 million for the city.
View mass gathering criteria here
Officials said the likelihood of an event remaining prohibited increases significantly if:
Venues and event planners for events in Austin with more than 2,500 people who have submitted an application for a special event permit will be contacted by local officials regarding their permit application status officials said. Permanently permitted venues with a capacity of 2,500 or more, and any other event organizers who do not have a special event permit application pending, should refer to detailed information at www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19 to arrange for Austin Public Health to review their specific events and operations, officials added.
Related story: Coronavirus Forces SXSW Cancellation: Here’s Why
New coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, a respiratory ailment caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.
Austin Public Health officials said they would prioritize Spring Festival events that are closest in date and largest in capacity. Special events for fewer than 2,500 people, and permanently permitted venues with a capacity below 2,500, are currently unaffected by the new measures and will not be subject to an APH review at this time, offiials added.
“This process is subject to change based on the developing COVID-19 impacts on Austin-Travis County,” officials said. “New events not already permitted should go through the normal permitting process, into which these risk mitigation strategies will be incorporated.”
Anyone planning an event that is outside of Austin City limits that is in, or extends into, Travis County, should contact the Travis County Fire Marshal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 512-854-4621.Check www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19 for updates. Event organizers can get the latest information at www.AustinTexas.gov/ACE.