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Emerald City Comic Con is postponed amid Seattle’s coronavirus outbreak

After much debate and growing concern, the geek convention will be rescheduled for summer.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

After growing concern and a rising number of guest and vendor cancellations, Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) a major geek convention that was to take place in Seattle March 12-16, has been postponed due to the city’s coronavirus outbreak.

“We did everything that we could to run the event as planned, but ultimately, we are following the guidance of the local public health officials indicating that conventions should now be postponed,” convention organizers Reedpop said in a statement published on the Emerald City Comic Con website Friday. The announcement came just hours before South by Southwest was canceled by emergency order by the mayor of Austin, Texas.

Attendees and artists will be issued automatic refunds. The vendors and exhibitors, however, will be out whatever travel expenses they’d already incurred. Prior to the decision to postponed, Reedpop was holding exhibitors to the terms of their previously signed contracts. A Reedpop spokesperson told Vox in an emailed statement Friday that any fees paid for exhibit space would not be refunded, but would instead be credited to the exhibitor towards the rescheduled convention or towards an alternate Reedpop event.

Although the spread of coronavirus in the US has been mainly limited to a few regions so far, one of those areas is Washington state, which saw the first confirmed coronavirus death in the nation. Seattle in particular has been particularly hard-hit, with 69 confirmed cases and 10 deaths in the area. So there have been many valid concerns about bringing a large influx of visitors from across the country and even the globe into the city. Even taking the best precautions, ECCC attendees would have a high likelihood of coming into contact with the virus and taking it back to their home states.

Despite the legitimate concerns about spreading the virus, along with a very long list of merchants and guests withdrawing from the convention as concerns escalated — including major comics publishers like Dark Horse as well as prominent artists — Reedpop planned up until yesterday to go forward with the meetup.

The question of whether or not the con should continue had been a subject of heated debate, with many people touting both the importance of ECCC as a revenue source for the city, and for its many artists and vendors.

But the flip-side is that the con, which regularly draws attendance of approximately 50,000 people from across the state and around the globe, could be a walking health hazard. Geek conventions are known to be giant petri dishes for infection and illness even at the best of times. And there seemed to be little encouragement that things would be different this time around.

Reedpop had indicated that there would be extra sanitization methods available at the show in an attempt to curtail the risk. But many members of the public voiced frustration that officials seemed to be doing little to enact preventative measures to cut down on coronavirus risks surrounding the convention, and instead were promoting it as though nothing were out of the ordinary:

Reedpop did begin issuing refunds to ticketholders earlier this week, but seemed to be reinforcing its commitment to running ECCC no matter what — a decision that also brought plenty of criticism.

It’s unclear what, if anything, proved to be the tipping point for the decision to postpone the convention. But while artists and vendors scramble to make up for the loss in revenue, some fans have said they plan to make the trip to Seattle anyway.

ECCC’s postponement follows Facebook’s recent decision to cancel its annual developer convention over coronavirus concerns, as well as the postponement of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco from March to later this summer. Several music conventions have also been canceled or postponed. Many were looking to another upcoming convention juggernaut, Austin’s South by Southwest Festival, to follow suit.

Scheduled to kick off March 13, in parallel to ECCC’s original schedule, SXSW also saw its share of guests and attendees backing out, as well as a petition to cancel the event that racked up over 50,000 signatures. Just hours after ECCC’s postponement was announced, Austin, Texas mayor Steve Adler declared a citywide disaster and issued an order canceling SXSW, as well as all other festivals and similar events over a seven-day period.

The widely visible examples of conventions the size of ECCC and SXSW making the decision to postpone could be a huge influence on the way such events are being handled as coronavirus spreads. ECCC’s postponement will hopefully drastically reduce the risk of spreading Seattle’s outbreak to many other areas of the country. And it might even encourage other conventions and events to take similar risk-averse action on behalf of their attendees — even if it means calling it a day.