Citywide mega-festival South by Southwest (SXSW) has updated its 2022 attendance guidelines to reflect Austin’s changing COVID situation. In order to maintain credentials throughout the course of the festival, participants, registrants, and wristband holders will need to show proof of a CDC-approved vaccination series or a negative COVID test taken within three days prior to credential pickup, according to the SXSW website.
Those going the vaccine route will need to download CLEAR Health Pass, the mobile app SXSW is partnering with to verify proof of vaccination. Once a guest registers with the app and completes verification in advance, all they have to do is show the app in order to get their credentials. However, attendees from outside the U.S. will need to still bring their physical vaccination cards. Boosters, while encouraged, are not required.
For those planning on providing negative tests instead, the process is slightly more involved. SXSW is basing its testing protocol on Austin Public Health (APH)’s risk-based guidelines. As of this week, the city reduced the city’s risk level to stage two due to decreasing number of cases and hospitalizations (the fifth level is the most restrictive).
Still, with that in mind, initial testing must be done at least 72 hours before picking up SXSW credentials, and re-testing must be completed every seven days throughout the duration of the festival. If the city escalates into higher levels, then the re-testing window is reduced to five days under stage four or three days in the case of stage five. The entire conference spans 10 days, from Friday, March 11 through Sunday, March 20, with events ranging from panels to films to concerts.
PCR tests or rapid antigen tests will be accepted, and they all must be verified tests, but there is no mention on the official website on which tests are considered verified, and representatives for SXSW did not respond to requests for clarity. The site does mention that the Austin Convention Center (one of the main venues) will have a free testing center open in Exhibit Hall 2 throughout the duration of the festival, with PCR and rapid antigen tests available.
Masks will be required despite vaccination and test statuses for all events taking place in indoor conference sessions rooms and exhibitions, as well as registration and pre-function areas. SXSW notes on its website that affiliated venues can require masks if they want to, and other indoor spaces will strongly encourage but not require them. The CDC recently loosened its rules on masking, nearly two years after the agency first recommended strict mask mandates be put in place.
In January, SXSW first announced its required COVID-19 safety procedures and guidelines for badge-holders in order to attend the massive conference and festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city over the course of two weeks. This will mark SXSW’s first year of in-person events after it was abruptly canceled in 2020 and went fully digital in 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Large festivals have handled in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis in different ways. The South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Florida returned in 2021 with a much more scaled-back approach, including a contactless ticketing system, temperature checks, and capacity restrictions. All of the same protocols were in place at the festival’s recent 2022 event to mitigate the potential spread of COVID. On the other hand, major music festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach, both of which take place in California later this year, will not be enforcing any kind of COVID-19 vaccination, masking, or testing protocols.
Prior to the pandemic, SXSW hosted hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers every year, with over 400,000 in attendance from over 100 countries in 2019. Eater has reached out to SXSW and APH for comment on this year’s expectations but did not hear back at the time of publishing.
Update, March 4, 2022, 12:16 p.m.: This story, originally published on March 2, has been updated to reflect Austin’s current risk stage, which was reduced to stage two earlier today.
- SXSW COVID-19 Guidelines [Official]
- Austin COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines [APH]
- Florida’s Largest Food Festival Returns With Safety at the Forefront [Eater Miami]
- All SXSW Coverage [EATX]