SXSW EDU kicks off with COVID-19 safety measures

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first round of events kicked off Monday for South By Southwest EDU, ahead of the main conference and festival kicking off on Thursday.

Public safety plans have changed a bit since the last in-person festival in 2019. Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said all officers now have Narcan, which is used to treat overdoses, and the department is partnering with EMS to form more rescue task forces to get through crowds faster.

But it’s not just public safety that organizers are concerned about, as is COVID-19, and that’s why they said they were keeping their Stage 5 COVID-19 rules, despite the passage of the Austin area in Stage 2.

“Even if our situation in Austin improves, we will stay the course with the plans we have made as if we were going to a Stage 5 event,” said Tami Richter, vice president of event operations. “We know that these mitigation measures will cover all levels of risk.”

This means that SXSW attendees must mask up indoors in conference and exhibit spaces, as well as at City of Austin facilities. They are also required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entry before they can obtain their credentials.

Richter said staff cross-check documentation with IDs to make sure they match.

An SXSW EDU participant shows proof of vaccination and ID to staff (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

They also partner with CLEAR Health Pass, an app used by other events and even airlines.

“It’s a very quick upload of your vaccination card and verification, and a very easy way to verify when you walk into any location,” Richter said.

Organizers are also partnering with Nomi Health to offer free on-site COVID-19 testing.

“If you get your antigen test, it’ll come back in an hour, so you can take your antigen test, and as soon as you get your results, you can go right next door and pick up your diploma,” Richter explained.

SXSW guidelines are similar to those in effect for Mardi Gras in New Orleans for the past few weeks – except attendees there also needed proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter bars , restaurants and other event venues in New Orleans, according to the city’s website.

So far, according to the Louisiana Health Department dashboard, there hasn’t been a major spike in COVID cases.

Currently, there is no such proof requirement in Austin for SXSW events at bars, restaurants or event venues. But the organizers encourage masking in all spaces.

“We really want to keep the numbers down, we want to protect our community, we want to protect those that we invite here to Austin and also protect those that they’re going to return to as well after the event is over. “, Richter said.

She said registrations have increased every week for the past two weeks.

SXSW EDU attendee Sage Salvo said at one point he was concerned about COVID-19 but ultimately decided to come.

“A) I got vaccinated, then B) I’m from Washington, DC, and they lifted a lot of warrants, responding to a decrease in cases,” Salvo said.

He demonstrates his new technology at the event.

“We have an app that incorporates the music kids listen to into their learning, reading, and writing plan,” Salvo said.

He is looking forward to his fourth SXSW.

“Networking. Meeting new people, new partnerships, new investors and new clients,” Salvo said.

While he expects more people to filter through the event later this week, he feels comfortable with current COVID safety measures.

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