AUSTIN, Texas – The cancellation of the South by Southwest festival in March 2020 was among the first signs of just how serious the coronavirus pandemic is.

What You Need To Know

  • SXSW 2020 canceled due to COVID-19 concerns 

  • Public health official signals in-person 2021 festival may not happen

  • Digital version of SXSW 2021 slated for March 16-20

  • SXSW typically has an economic impact of more than $300 million in Austin

In the days and weeks leading up to SXSW 2020, guests began canceling appearances. Shortly after the cancellation, other public gatherings were put on hold, and orders from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut down non-essential businesses.

While faint and distant, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine are slated to arrive in the Lone Star State on December 14. While a vaccine will likely eventually bring the pandemic to an end, it probably won’t be in time to spare the in-person version of SXSW 2021.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Austin Public Health interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott said the early months of 2021 will likely remain too risky for large public gatherings.

"Well, I think it's important to remember that the large events were the first thing that we turned off and will probably be the last thing we turn back on. But the situation - as the vaccine becomes available, as people get the vaccine and as we move closer towards herd immunity, that risk for large surges will start to diminish,” Escott said.

As of now, the in-person version of the festival has not been canceled. Regardless of what happens, the online version of the event will go forward and, like the previous one, will include panels, showcases, and new films. That version of the festival is scheduled for March 16-20.

In recent years SXSW has drawn more than 100,000 people to Austin and has produced an economic impact in excess of $300 million.

As of December 3, Austin-Travis County remains in Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of December 2, Travis County has reported a total 38,757 cases of COVID-19.