AUSTIN (KXAN) — Popular events where large crowds gather – including University of Texas football games and Austin City Limits music festival – were a hot topic of conversation from local health officials Wednesday morning.
Gatherings of more than 2,500 people in Austin and Travis County may be unsafe through the end of 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health.
“Looking through the end of December, we don’t have any indications at this stage that we would be able to mitigate risk enough to have large events, particularly ones over 2,500 [people],” he said.
Dr. Escott was responding to a question about the likelihood of events such as UT football and ACL taking place in the fall with large crowds in attendance during a media briefing Wednesday.
ACL is due to happen in Zilker Park from October 2 to 4 and October 9 to 11. Tickets for the festival remain on sale and start at $265.
UT has six regular season games scheduled at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium between September and November. Texas football coaches were allowed to return to facilities on Monday, but players are not currently allowed on campus in any sort of organized practice settings.
Texas Longhorns Athletic Director Chris Del Conte and Texas Athletics have not commented on the APH’s statements.
In his weekly newsletter, Texas Longhorns Athletic Director Chris Del Conte expressed confidence and optimism in his belief that UT football will take place in the fall.
“We are finding ways to thrive, there are brighter days ahead, we feel certain we’ll have football in the fall, and we can’t wait to be with all of you again,” he wrote.
Last week, Del Conte established a task force among the UT athletic department to prepare for the upcoming football season amid the unprecedented circumstances.
Directives over the forthcoming season will come from the NCAA, the Big 12 Conference and the state. As a state institution, the University of Texas system does not fall under the City of Austin’s jurisdiction.
According to national reports, the NCAA will allow student-athletes on campus from football and men’s/women’s basketball programs on campus for workouts starting June 1. Each school must make their own decision on athletes returning in accordance with state and local health directives.
“Mass events are a challenge,” Dr. Escott said. “The large events are the first thing we turned off and are going to be the last thing we turn back on because of that risk of exposing lots of people to one another.
“At this stage, in Stage 3, the answer is no,” he said, referencing a risk guidelines chart released by APH last week.
According to the chart, Austin and Travis County are currently in Stage 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Stage 3, people should maintain social distancing and wear face coverings in public.
Asked about what it would take to bring back larger events, Dr. Escott said that Austin and Travis County would need to move all the way back to Stage 1.
“If we decrease hospitalizations we will think about moving from Stage 3 to Stage 2, which will open things up a little bit more as far as gatherings are concerned,” he added.
“We really have to get to that green level, that Stage 1, before we are going to be willing to have any sizable events.”
Dr. Escott also acknowledged that “a lot is changing very quickly,” and forecasting beyond the next month or two is “very challenging.”
How quickly large events return will depend on how well the community follows the social distancing, face covering and personal hygiene guidelines issued by APH, he said.
A City of Austin Spokesperson said that while APH can make recommendations based on the public health interest of the community, the City can only permit or cancel an event if it takes place on City-owned property.
If the event is on state or federal land, the City cannot prevent it from taking place.
In addition, the City does not have the power to prevent any event on private property as long as it is in line with state orders.
“We are working on a plan with our special events partners to ensure events can be restarted in a way that safeguards public health, rebuilds consumer confidence, and provides resources and guidance to help the industry endure,” the spokesperson added.