Actor Jon Hamm walks the red carpet for the Amazon Prime Series Good Omens at Zach Theatre during SXSW 2019 in March 2019 [Scott Moore/Austin360]▲
More than 22,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival, due to run March 13-22 in Austin.
"I'm concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be traveling" to Austin for the festival says the petition, which was posted by a person named Shayla Lee to Change.org.
"I believe that having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak," says the petition, which is addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Austin Public Health and SXSW.
But public health experts interviewed by the American-Statesman who are not involved with the SXSW decision-making say it may be premature to cancel the festival, given that the pockets of the disease remain isolated in a few communities in the U.S.
"It's a tough call," said Philip Keiser, an infectious disease expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and a local health authority for Galveston County. "We understand that people are nervous. The risk in Texas is really, really low. We're still in that early, isolated case phase. The closure of schools or mass events — it's difficult to know what the right time is."
SXSW officials said Monday they are proceeding with conference.
"SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event," according to a statement posted on swsw.com.
SXSW officials said they made their decision in part based on recommendations from Austin Public Health.
"We're consulting with multiple organizations, state agencies and federal agencies along with health departments across the nation, that includes cities who also host large events, and consulting with what their process is right now, specifically with COVID-19," said Jen Samp at Austin Public Health. "We have to consult with many people in order to come up with these guidelines. We have emergency plans in place for large events and we are prepared, but as far as calculating the factors of what would go into a closure, we have many people to consult on that."