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New city guidelines require proof of negative COVID-19 test for special events in Austin

ACL Fest organizers have announced plans to require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination for entry to the event that takes place over the first two weekends in October.

On Aug. 27, the Austin Center for Events announced updated COVID-19 guidelines for city-sanctioned special events. Most notably, the new guidelines state that indoor events with 1,000 or more people and outdoor events with 2,500 or more people must screen event attendees at entrances and require proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the event. 

The guidelines also require event organizers to develop social distancing strategies and implement “mask zones” in outdoor event areas where maintaining 6 feet of distance between attendees is not possible. 

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The new guidelines only apply to events that require a special events permit to take place on city property and parkland. Large events at privately owned music venues and stadiums like the Circuit of the Americas are not affected. 

Can events substitute proof of vaccination for a negative COVID-19 test? 

The city’s largest special event, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, last month announced plans to require negative COVID-19 test results or proof of vaccination as a condition for entry. The massive music fest, which draws 75,000 people a day to Zilker Park, will take place over the first two weekends in October. 

When asked if events could substitute proof of vaccination for a negative COVID-19 test under the new guidelines, Sara Henry, public information and marketing program manager in the Austin Center for Events, said “the City of Austin is not imposing a vaccination requirement on events. As a result, an event organizer makes vaccination-related decisions independent of the city.”

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While mask zones sound good on paper, Austin music fans have resisted mask requirements at recent events. At Gary Clark Jr.’s show that christened the new Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park last month, the venue’s mask requirement was largely ignored and unenforced. Masks were encouraged for outdoor shows and required at indoor shows during the Red River Cultural District’s Hot Summer Nights Festival that took place on the last weekend in August, but Austin360 photos from the event show unmasked crowds indoors and out. 

If events fail to enforce the mask zones laid out in their COVID-19 safety plans, “Austin Center for Events will take that into consideration the next time the event organizer requests a special events permit in our community,” Henry said. 

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The new guidelines came two days after the city pulled the permit for Bat Fest, a music festival featuring Fetty Wap that was set to take place on the Congress Avenue bridge on Aug. 28. 

In a statement, city officials said the decision to cancel Bat Fest was made out of “an abundance of caution” as COVID-19 cases in the area are surging. 

"In this current environment, some events cannot provide for or implement sufficient safety and health protocols necessary to prevent the spread," the statement said. It also noted that "public health conditions continue to strain local medical services, including hospital resources with Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacities."

On social media, Bat Fest organizers said they felt blind-sided by the city, claiming that city staff had assured them that the event would go on two days before they made the decision to cancel. 

Austin promoter announces new show entry requirements

On Wednesday, Austin-based music booking company Resound Presents, which works with private venues and is not bound by city requirements, announced new COVID-19 safety requirements for all of their upcoming shows. The company will require negative PCR COVID-19 test results obtained within 72 hours of the show or proof of full vaccination as a condition for entry. They also will require all patrons to wear masks at indoor shows when not eating or drinking. Any patrons who are unable or unwilling to comply with the new guidelines can request a refund. 

A statement about the new guidelines said that Resound Presents “is deeply passionate about keeping live music on the stages of central Texas. More importantly, we care deeply about the safety of the bands, crews, venue staff and concert-goers that frequent our shows.”

It thanked fans for “understanding and being adaptable in these unprecedented times.” 

“We love you, we love putting on shows for you, and with these protocols in place we'll be able to keep moving forward as safely as possible,” the statement said.