Thousands of people gathered in the desert to party in costumes, many without masks, in Utah on Saturday at a rave that broke the state’s pandemic restrictions.
They may have gotten away with it, too, if a crowd-surfing woman hadn’t fallen on her head, prompting other partygoers to call 911 after she was knocked unconscious for several minutes, KSTU reported.
After attendees phoned for medical aid for the unnamed woman, who was taken to a nearby hospital, police in Utah County worked with organizers to break up the massive, unpermitted event, which may have drawn several thousand people, police estimated. Multiple people also crashed their cars trying to leave the area, and also requested official assistance, Sgt. Spencer Cannon, a spokesman for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, told KSTU.
Drone footage of the party showed thousands of people packed together, dancing in front of a stage lit with purple lights where a DJ played music. In photos and videos posted to social media, young people in Halloween costumes clung to one another and danced, often touching one another, in the sand.
The Utah County Health Department, which includes the desert area where the party took place, said Sunday that the county “has been experiencing record COVID-19 cases” in recent days.
“To see an event of this size is extremely disheartening, as Utah deals with it’s worst COVID-19 outbreak yet,” said Aislynn Tolman-Hill, a spokeswoman for the health department, told KSTU Monday. “Individuals who attended this event absolutely will become ill, we will have positive cases.”
Tolman-Hill added that she expects people who may have been infected at the rave to likely pass the virus to other community members who did not attend the party and have been making an effort to socially distance.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Utah, increasing by nearly 10% in the last week. Hospitals in some parts of the state have been inundated with patients, taxing resources as doctors cope with a 17.7% increase in COVID-19 patients over the last seven days. At least 614 people have died and more than 117,700 have tested positive in the state since the start of the pandemic.
The event on Saturday appeared to violate state guidelines for large gatherings, which requires organizers to fill out a form describing how they will ensure people wear masks and maintain social distancing. The state also requires event organizers to track attendees, with names and contact information, to facilitate contact tracing in case of an outbreak. Informal events that forego the form are limited to no more than 10 people in “high transmission areas” like Utah County, according to state restrictions.
People who attended the party posted photos and videos on social media over the weekend, tagging Utah Tonight and The Tribe Utah, two event-planning groups who had advertised it on social media as an anti-restriction “Protest on Halloween.” Cannon told KSTU that Saturday’s event was hosted by organizers from The Tribe Utah.
Although The Tribe Utah and Utah Tonight posted since-deleted photos and videos of the party to their Instagram stories, the organizations have since publicly denied any role in the party. Utah Tonight organizers claimed their “Protest on Halloween” event had been canceled and said Saturday’s party was put on by volunteers who advertised it through fliers sent in private messages to about 300 people on social media.
“Unfortunately, with the spreading of this news of this gathering, thousands upon thousands of people began to flock out there so they could enjoy their Halloween, so they had somewhere to go,” Karson Jensen, one of the volunteer organizers, told KSTU.
Utah Tonight also blasted local officials over coronavirus restrictions on Instagram.
“The finger-pointing ‘leadership’ we have witnessed and been victim of from politicians, the media, and other public entities is, at best, hypocritical, political, lazy, and without vision for the future,” Utah Tonight said in an Instagram post where it claimed to cancel its Halloween event. The group also urged people not to get tested and provide “ammunition” to local officials implementing safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Those claims frustrated local health officials, who worry the party may lead to more cases and deaths in the coming weeks.
“The message that is being sent to you is absolutely incorrect and dangerous,” Tolman-Hill told KSTU. “You need to be tested.”