Coachella Music Festival Now In Jeopardy As First Coronavirus Case Hits Riverside County, California

Jonathan Vankin

The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. hit 539 as of about 9 p.m. ET on Sunday night, according to a New York Times report, and the death toll has reached 22. The state of California accounted for 114 of the total cases as of Sunday, and the virus appears poised to claim another casualty: the annual, six-day, two-weekend Coachella Valley Music Festival.

Riverside County, California, the site of the festival, declared a health emergency on Sunday when officials announced that a patient was being treated for a coronavirus infection at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, according to a report by TMZ. Rancho Mirage sits about 25-minutes drive from Indio, California, where the annual festival takes place in the southern California desert.

Los Angeles County has seen a total of 14 cases as of Sunday. Health officials allowed the annual L.A. Marathon to go ahead on March 8, merely issuing cautions to participants, and telling runners who were feeling ill for any reason to stay home.

According to Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County's public health officer, the patient is now in isolation and medical investigators are attempting to determine whether the individual came in contact with others, who may have then been exposed to the virus.

Kaiser said that he had not yet decided whether to advise concert promoter Goldenvoice, which organizes the massive Coachella music festival, to postpone or cancel the event, which is currently scheduled to run on two straight weekends starting on April 10 and concluding on April 19.

Organizers of the South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and arts festival in Austin, Texas, have already canceled the 2020 event in response to the coronavirus outbreak. If Coachella is cancelled as well, the two festivals alone would account for a significant economic hit as a result of the coronavirus update. According to Forbes, SXSW brought in about $356 million to Austin's economy last year.

Coachella's impact dwarfs that of the Texas festival, according to Forbes. The six-day festival that features many of the biggest acts in the music industry brings an economic value worth "north of $1 billion worldwide," Forbes reported.

As officials in California debate what to do about Coachella, which brings in about 100,000 fans from all over the world on each of the event's six days, the Italian government has already taken drastic measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. Large swaths of the country's northern regions have been locked down, effectively quarantining about 16 million people. Large gatherings and smaller events have all been suspended, schools have been closed, and even funerals and religious services have been called off.

At least 366 people have died in under two months since the disease is believed to have been introduced to Italy, with the total number of cases topping 7,300.