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SXSW Events Canceled Over Coronavirus Concerns

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Fears over the spread of COVID-19 have caused major events tracking large crowds to be postponed or canceled. The wildly popular South by Southwest festival in Austin is now one of those events. Over 100,000 people from all over the world were expected to attend next week. But last night, Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster in the city and issued the order to cancel the festival, the first time in the event's 34 years that's been canceled. Mayor Adler joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

STEVE ADLER: Good to be with you.

SIMON: How much is this going to cost Austin?

ADLER: You know, the economic benefit to the city - a little over $350 million. This is going to hurt.

SIMON: Did anyone try and convince you otherwise, talk you out of it?

ADLER: Not really. I was really encouraged by the - basically the unanimity in the community, really the focus on keeping people safe. And that includes the organizers of the South by Southwest Festival.

SIMON: Now, health officials, I gather, have said there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin. And health officials also quoted as saying "no evidence that closing South by Southwest or any other gatherings will make the community safer." But what factored into your decision, if that's the case?

ADLER: Well, that's what the health - one, we have no reported cases in Austin. But certainly, the longer we can stay that way, the better off we are. It's inevitable that it's coming here, as to all other cities. But delay is better. The balance - when you take into account all the factors that would make a canceling, make the city safer and the ways that canceling make the city less safe, the balance on Tuesday was, as you reported, that it wouldn't make - canceling wouldn't make the city safer. But the changed conditions over the last two or three days had our health experts change and revise their advice. And their recommendation yesterday was to cancel the event because it would make the city safer. They were looking at the increased person-to-person spread of the disease that was happening in cities that were both closer and cities that were sending many people to the festival.

SIMON: You're a man of the arts, Mr. Mayor, and mayor of a city famed for its arts and music. This is going to be a setback for a lot of singers, songwriters. Rod Lurie's film "The Outpost" was set to premiere there. This must be tough.

ADLER: Very tough and truly heartbreaking. You know, the real impact cumulatively, as you indicated - but the individual stories are also heartbreaking. We're going to have to mitigate that as best we can as a community, be as resilient as we can. You know, there's efforts starting now, like stand by South by to try to to mitigate those things. I'm trying to encourage everybody in the city to go out a few times next week and have dinner out and visit some of the clubs and - but this is going to hurt. We just ultimately didn't have a choice because the focus needed to be on doing what was necessary to best keep the city safe.

SIMON: Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Texas. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.

ADLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.