HOUSTON – A few thousand people have signed an online petition calling for the cancellation of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo amid the coronavirus outbreak. The annual festival is March 3 through March 22.
According to local officials, there are 11 coronavirus cases in the Greater Houston area. An additional eight cases are being investigated for possible exposure, while over 100 people are being monitored due to direct contact with those affected.
The petition’s author, who was originally identified as Melissa Veliz, wrote the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival in Austin should be a warning to cancel the Houston Rodeo. At least two international organizations have canceled conferences in Houston due to coronavirus concerns.
“If the risk of (COVID-19) virus is bad enough to cancel SXSW, then it’s bad enough to cancel all other major events, including the Houston Rodeo,” Veliz wrote on her petition. “It would be irresponsible to continue putting lives at risk for the remainder of this event.”
Veliz created the petition Friday under Change.org and might be from Round Rock, though it isn’t immediately clear what motivated her to create the petition.
Dubbed as the largest rodeo in the world, Houston Rodeo attracts millions of people to NRG Park.
Last year, 325,816 people visited the Houston Rodeo between Day 2 and Day 5. While about 50,000 fewer people have attended the festival this year within the comparable four-day span.
The all-time high for rodeo attendance was 2.6 million people in 2017.
Rodeo officials noted Sunday that theme days and concert guests also impact attendance figures on specific days. For example. Cardi B performed on Black Hertigiate Day in 2019, which was the first Friday. However, this year, Lizzo performs on Black Heritage Day on the second Friday.
Cardi B currently holds the second-highest rodeo/concert attendance of all time, per the Houston Rodeo.
Despite rising concerns of the coronavirus, Houston Rodeo and local officials said there are no such plans to cancel the festival at this time. Organizers said rodeo attendees vary significantly from those that typically attend South by Southwest, said in a statement Saturday.
"The Rodeo is predominantly a local event, with 73% of the 2019 Rodeo visitors residing in the greater Houston area, 94% in Texas, and 99% in the U.S.," the statement read. "In contrast, 26% of the 2019 SXSW attendees were international."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also echoed this message in a tweet Friday night.
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo #HLSR is primarily a local event. SXSW attracts people from over 100 countries. CERAWEEK which Houston has hosted for 35 years attracts delegates from over 80 countries. Austin canceled SXSW; Houston canceled CERAWEEK. st— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) March 7, 2020
The cancellation of South by Southwest comes during a slew of high-profile event cancellations, including the cancellation of the Houston-based oil and gas industry conference CERAWeek and Miami’s Ultra Music Festival.
Officials said Friday they do not believe the virus has spread to the community at large, and there have been no deaths in the area connected to the virus.
Here is that statement from the Houston Rodeo following the cancellation of SXSW:
"At this time, the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is continuing as planned, with additional precautionary measures in place, which can be found on our Health Tips webpage.
“With the news of the cancelation of the SXSW Festival, many questions have arisen regarding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. According to Austin health officials, cancelation was partially due to the travel of international guests. While both the Rodeo and SXSW are musical events, the attendees differ significantly. The Rodeo is predominantly a local event, with 73% of the 2019 Rodeo visitors residing in the greater Houston area, 94% in Texas, and 99% in the U.S. In contrast, 26% of the 2019 SXSW attendees were international.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation and collaborate daily with Harris County and City of Houston officials, and the Houston Health Department.”