By James Hibberd
March 27, 2020 at 08:31 PM EDT
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UPDATE: Comic-Con released a statement on April 1 indicating they still hope to have the San Diego fan event: To our amazing Comic-Con and WonderCon fans: "We understand how difficult the current climate has been for all of us and appreciate your continued support through these trying times. No one is as hopeful as we are that we will be able to celebrate #SDCC2020 together come July. As we continue to monitor the situation with local authorities, we will post updates on our social channels! Until then, remember: 'A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.'" — Christopher Reeve

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The photos say it all.

As anybody who's attended San Diego Comic-Con can attest, the annual fan event is the opposite of social distancing. More than 125,000 fans get packed shoulder to shoulder inside the convention center, or while waiting in lines for panels, or on the exhibit floor, or as they navigate the streets of the Gaslamp District. So could the gathering still move forward during a global pandemic when a deadly virus is spread through close contact?

The convention is supposed to get underway on July 23. That's still quite a ways off, and the coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation with a constant stream of new developments that might dramatically change the situation. But the Summer Olympics in Tokyo was supposed to begin the same weekend as SDCC — and the Games were postponed Wednesday.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Right now, we hear that SDCC is quietly proceeding as if everything is still on track. Representatives for the event did not respond to request for comment. Studio representatives say they are, in turn, waiting to see what the event's organizers decide before making their own verdicts.

President Trump has suggested he'd like to relax social distancing measures by Easter (April 12). Medical experts have countered that such a move would prove disastrous. Ultimately, such decisions are left to state and local officials. “I think that would be misleading to represent, at least for California, that that will be the case,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday. “April for California would be sooner than any of the experts that I talked to believe is possible."

Many experts believe it's very possible to "flatten the curve" of new infections in the coming weeks, and models suggest that with ongoing social distancing measures, the peak of the outbreak in the U.S. might be around April (especially if testing, which remains woefully inadequate, is ramped up). Even if the curve were flattened, and the number of daily new cases dramatically reduced, could an event synonymous with massive sweaty crowds and exhausting schedules still move forward one month later?

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Perhaps a better question: Will studios feel comfortable sending their talent to an event that could later be linked to an outbreak? And with film and TV production halted, will there be enough upcoming content with firm premiere dates to fill the schedule anyway? The last-minute cancellation of Austin's SXSW earlier this month was precipitated by a slew of sponsors and talent dropping out as they recognized the danger of moving forward with their participation.

Anaheim's WonderCon, which like SDCC is run by Comic-Con International, was canceled one month ahead of its April 10 kickoff, and then only due to Newsom directing that California gatherings of 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled. So there's likely still some time left on the clock for a wait-and-see approach. In the statement announcing WonderCon's cancellation, organizers also said, "We continue to work closely with officials in San Diego, and at this time no decision has been made regarding the rescheduling of Comic-Con."

So while the fan convention could still happen (and all hope it can — EW has an annual party there as well), the current news trajectory suggests SDCC needs to be saved by some sort of game-changing development — or, perhaps, a superhero or two.

For the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19), including how to protect yourself and what to do if you think you are sick, please visit coronavirus.gov.

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