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COVID-19 shuts down SXSW: How Amplify Philly and other orgs are handling virus concerns

Local orgs are reverting to digital experiences as the U.S. faces more cases of coronavirus.

Panelists inside the Amplify Philly House at the March 2019 SXSW. (Courtesy photo)

On Friday evening, after a week of more COVID-19 cases spreading across the U.S., South By Southwest announced that Austin was canceling its 2020 conference scheduled to start this week.

The City of Austin declared a local state of disaster, organizers of the film, media and music festival said in a statement.

“As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.’ However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision,” the statement said.

Earlier last week, bigwigs such as Facebook, Twitter and and Intel pulled out of the conference, spurring rumors that the festival itself would officially call it.

Austin itself hasn’t yet seen any cases of COVID-19, but folks travel from across the world to attend, the City of Austin said. Key factors in the decision included likelihood of crowds, incoming travel and the lack of an existing vaccine.

Shortly after SXSW’s announcement, Amplify Philly, the nonprofit that organizes the Philadelphia presence at the Texas festival, put out a statement, too. It would have been the five-year old organization’s first time heading to the festival as a nonprofit.

“Once again, we appreciate all efforts that have been contributed to the success of Amplify Philly at SXSW and now we must adapt,” Amplify said in its statement Friday evening.

An Amplify Philly co-organizer told Monday that the org was meeting to talk about next steps and would publish a follow-up statement soon.

The City of Philadelphia put out a statement Friday saying that while one local individual had been tested for the virus, it had come back negative and there are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in Philadelphia. The City said it was “actively planning” to ensure a possible response was timely and appropriate.

“We’re monitoring the situation with our state, regional, and local partners and receiving and distributing CDC guidance,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in the statement. “We regularly work with our hospital and health care community to prepare for this type of situation, so we’re confident that — if we get a case — our response will be ready and appropriate.”

Other area organizations have also began taking preventative measures.

The Code for America Summit, scheduled for this week in Washington, D.C. has also been canceled, its organizers announced Friday. At least four Philadelphia reps would have been there, Charlie Costanzo, the former Philly chapter’s co-director, told

“I always look forward to the event but especially so this year as it’s the first year it was supposed to be in D.C.,” he said via Twitter. “Bummed!”

Temple University, which has campuses in Japan and Rome, has started taking preventative measures, telling students in Rome that they must return home to the U.S. and could complete coursework online. Students in Japan were told that their classes would be entirely online for two weeks starting March 2.

“Currently, no students, faculty or staff at any of Temple’s campuses in the U.S. or overseas have been diagnosed with the virus,” the university said. “All steps taken are preventative and aligned with guidelines issued by health officials in the U.S. and abroad.”

And Venture Café, which hosts weekly programming at the University City Science Center, was held virtually last week and will likely continue that way for the foreseeable future, the org explained on its website. Folks who still want to soak up the free talks, workshops and events can do so through Zoom.

The decision to go digital was made Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the weekly meeting, Science Center Marketing Director Kristen Fitch said. But the org took cues from other Venture Cafés, such as Tokoyo’s, which has been virtual for a few weeks now.

“We encourage you to pivot with us, and support our quick decision — we have your best interests at heart,” the Venture Cafe said.


This story will be updated as new information becomes available. In the meantime, we recommend Billy Penn’sUpdated guide to coronavirus in Philly: What you need to know about schools, transit, shopping and more” for all Philly-related info on the virus.

Companies: Code for America / SXSW / Temple University / University City Science Center
Series: Coronavirus
People: James Kenney
Projects: Amplify Philly

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