Twitter CEO pulls out of SXSW; Petition to cancel conference reaches 15,000 signatures

National News

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, has canceled plans to speak at South by Southwest amid the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus. Dorsey was set to be a featured speaker at this year’s conference.

The news comes less than 24 hours after San Antonio announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a patient from quarantine and that patient later tested positive for the disease. By that time, they had already spent time outside of the quarantine with other people.

A rendering of coronavirus via the CDC.

Twitter issued a blog post Sunday where the company said it was banning “all non-critical business travel and events.”

Some groups have also canceled, including China Gathering, which announced in an open letter on its website that the last few months have been difficult deciding to “suspend the program.”

Hundreds of thousands of people from across the world visit Austin to attend South By Southwest. The festival runs from March 13 to March 22.

Twitter has a storied history with SXSW. Many people believe Twitter launched at SXSW in 2007. While that is not the case, the 2007 conference did help Twitter explode in popularity and become one of the world’s most recognized social media platforms.

Petition to cancel festival surpasses 15,000 signatures

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the festival due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Shayla Lee started the petition three days ago. She wrote that “having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak.”

Austin Public Health says there are “no imminent plans to postpone any current events,” including SXSW. If SXSW were to cancel, the economic impact would be immense. Last year’s conference had an estimated economic impact of $355.9 million.

Other locals have also expressed concerns about possible transmission of the disease, which is rapidly spreading. Globally, over 89,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. About 3,000 of those people died.

In the US, there are over 80 confirmed cases. Two are confirmed dead out of Washington state.

SXSW festival safety

The festival includes an attendee safety page on its website with updates about the coronavirus. Their latest update on March 1 states:

SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event. As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority.

In guidelines posted on its website, Austin Public Health said it is “closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation,” and has developed a five-phase plan to coordinate response activities.

  • Phase 1: Persons Under Monitoring
  • Phase 2: Persons Under Investigation (Testing in Progress)
  • Phase 3: Confirmed Case (No Person-to-Person spread)
  • Phase 4: Limited Person-to-Person Spread (Close/Household Contacts)
  • Phase 5: Sustained Person-to-Person Spread in the Community

No health departments in Texas have requested the cancellation of any events at this time, as the risk of person-to-person spread remains low, Austin Public Health said.

Regarding SXSW, the health department said:

The health of the Austin community and those who visit our City is our highest priority. APH coordinates with South by Southwest (SXSW) annually to monitor and prepare for any public health emergencies during the festival – this year is no different. While in flu season, APH is working with SXSW to disseminate disease prevention messaging to help keep attendees and the entire Austin community safe. APH is also working with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor and prepare for any local cases of COVID-19.


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