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'No evidence closing SXSW is going to make the community safer;' Austin health official says risk to public still low

A doctor with Austin Public Health gave updates on SXSW at a briefing Wednesday morning.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: Austin and Travis County leaders announced on March 6 that SXSW has been canceled.

As health officials continue to remind the Austin area that the risk to the public is low in regard to the coronavirus, Austin Public Health is not advising that the City of Austin cancel South by Southwest Festival.

"Today the threat of community spread is low [in Austin], but we are prepared for that to happen here," said Mark Escott with Austin Public Health in a press conference March 4.

He went on to say that right now, "there is no evidence that closing SXSW is going to make the community safer." In fact, he said, "one concern is if we shut down SXSW, people will still continue to come here.” 

VIDEO: Austin health officials give updates on coronavirus test in Travis County

He said health officials are constantly monitoring events in Austin and that if they determine whether any events should be canceled, they will do so.

The doctor said SXSW is working to increase the number of handwashing stations and the presence of hand sanitizers surrounding the festival. The festival is also planning to work on communicating and stressing the importance of personal hygiene to attendees.

In addition, the festival will screen employees and volunteers to ensure they don't have an illness or fever prior to working at the festival.

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Austin health officials: Coronavirus test results pending, risk to public still low

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Escott said he wants to stress the importance of personal hygiene, and remind the public that, outside of Wuhan, China, the fatality rate is .7% in regard to the coronavirus.

The press conference came one day after health officials confirmed that at least one person is being tested for the coronavirus. The current risk to the public is low, and test results are pending, health officials said. No coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the Austin area.

Thousands have signed a petition calling on SXSW to cancel, and the list of companies pulling out of the festival is growing.

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