The Austin, Tex. economy has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Back in early March we saw the abrupt cancellation of the city’s massive music and other stuff South By Southwest festival. Austin thrives on events and with large gatherings posing a public health issue the city has rightly sacrificed for the health of its citizens. According to Austin’s senior public health official, large events are unlikely to take place in Austin at all in 2020.
The U.S. Grand Prix is still on the Formula One schedule for the moment, originally scheduled for April 5th, it holds onto its postponed October 25th date for now. While Austin is currently pushing into “Stage 3” of its reopening plan, which still discourages gatherings greater than 10 people. Confusingly, the city’s plan is working backwards from Stage 5, and will not consider large gatherings until it is safely within Stage 1 of the reopening plan.
As of right now, the Circuit of the Americas is classified a non-essential business and remains closed.
Austin interim medical director Dr. Mark Escott has indicated that large gatherings are not a priority in a statement to the Austin Statesman newspaper.
“The large events are the first thing that we turned off and are going to be the last thing we’re going to turn back on because of that risk of exposing lots of people to one another, particularly individuals of the same household.
We are working on a plan to help forecast what we think is going to be reasonable, but looking through the end of December, we don’t have any indications at this stage that we would be able to mitigate risk enough to have large events, particularly ones [with] over 2,500 [people].”
As Motorsport.com reports, COTA’s Formula One race-hosting fee is paid by the Texas State Major Events Trust Fund, which has a singular purpose of bringing tourist dollars to the city. If Formula One does decide that it can go forward with races sans spectators, COTA will likely not be eligible for that state funding.
“I really can’t comment,” COTA boss Bobby Epstein told Motorsport.com. “But right now, the law prohibits gatherings of any significant size, and our business is not allowed to open.”
It doesn’t really make much sense for the Formula One circus to risk flying all the way to Texas if the stands aren’t packed with American fans. Don’t count on COTA keeping that October date.
Texas, thus far, has seen over 50,000 cases of coronavirus with 1,370 resultant deaths. The state experienced more than 1,400 new cases just yesterday. It does not seem like this virus is going anywhere, and by all indications will only be far worse in the fall. Stay home, stay safe, wear your masks, and enjoy the online racing that is happening in the meantime.