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Austin Cancels SXSW Over Coronavirus Concerns

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

South by Southwest's annual tech, music and film conference is canceled. Austin city Mayor Steve Adler made the announcement today. Adler said they made the decision to hit pause on the festival this year due to concerns over coronavirus. Here to tell us more is Jimmy Maas of member station KUT in Austin.

And, Jimmy, I understand that Texas state officials were at a press conference today. What did they have to say? And what did you learn about why South by Southwest is being canceled?

JIMMY MAAS, BYLINE: Well, there is a - locally, there is a mayor and the county judge, which is effectively the county executive. They declared a local disaster declaration. It is not a health emergency. I suspect there's an important legal distinction between those two, though the city has not clarified what that is yet. There are no cases of coronavirus or the disease here, but in the absence of...

CORNISH: And we should say here in Austin.

MAAS: Right, sorry, in Austin. You're correct.

CORNISH: There are a total of five cases in Texas, at least according to public health officials and their website as of tonight.

MAAS: Yes, and they came back - they did a test on one individual, and that came back negative. But in the absence of evidence, they yielded to best practice. And they said there were no best practices, so they went with medical opinion, and that's when they decided to cancel the event overall.

CORNISH: The festival brings in such an enormous amount of money for local businesses, vendors, promoters, record stores. We know there's a tech component. What does canceling mean for the local economy?

MAAS: The ripple effects of this are going to be felt presumably, you know - we've been told there is - it's too late to get a refund. So South by Southwest, for the most part - all those contracts that were in place for the event are probably going to have to be paid or at least litigated in some way. But the things that were not secure - the restaurants, the hotels won't make that money back - small businesses that organize side events, security guards, drivers, all those temp workers that turn down other work to keep those 10 days open for what is usually a busy time of work for them, you know, here on the, you know, the Austin calendar.

CORNISH: And I'm going to leave it there. Actually, we've run out of time. That's Jimmy Maas of NPR member station KUT in Austin.

Thanks so much.

MAAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.