After being called out by health officials, universities and elected leaders, many involved in dance parties in Utah County are rejecting calls to tighten health restrictions – or cancel their events altogether.
Provo-based company Young/Dumb, which promotes brands to college-aged students through these parties, recently came under scrutiny after videos of party attendees dancing close together without masks circulated online.
“We know, 100 percent for sure, that we have cases linked to those events, and that is extremely concerning to us,” said Aislynn Tolman-Hill, spokesperson for the Utah County Health Department. She did not cite Young/Dumb by name, but said one of the businesses they’re concerned about is linked to BYU students.
Young/Dumb responded this week in a press release on Instagram captioned “@ all the journalists”followed by a sequence of emojis.
They claim their parties follow local regulations.
“Our precautions are why law enforcement has not shut us down,”it said. “We ask that the media trust the police officers who were actually at the event, and saw only compliance with city mandates, as opposed to trusting random users on social media, who have never attended a Young/Dumb event.”
They also announced a fundraiser to assist “people and businesses” negatively affected by COVID-19, details to be announced soon.
The event’s advertising encouraged people to bring masks. However, Young/Dumb founder and former BYU student Kwaku El told his Instagram followers in a video posted Sept. 12 that he is against any mandates to wear masks or avoid large gatherings.
“I am using my platform right now for the people of Provo to get you guys to literally open your eyes and recognize that we should not follow these mandates,” El said. “We should not be social distancing. …We need to be the city that pushes everyone to fully reopen.”
He said his parties aim to drive the local economy and lift the spirits of people who have suffered emotionally due to quarantine.
Other dance parties
Along with “hot tub gatherings”and “hook up culture,” Young/Dumb pointed to other dance parties and events as potential culprits for an uptick in cases. Tolmann-Hill also cited country swing dance parties that are held every week as responsible for some new COVID-19 cases.
Several venues in Provo and Salt Lake City host dance parties regularly. Julie Hansen, a sophomore ballroom dance major, attends such events several times a week and teaches a dance class in Salt Lake City. She said most people don’t wear masks at these events because it restricts their breathing – but they know the dangers.
“People are willing to risk it because they love it so much,” Hansen said. “They’re dancing, building up an immunity others aren’t getting because they aren’t getting that social interaction.”
Hansen added she hasn’t seen any serious COVID-19 cases arise from these activities – nothing “worse than a minor cold.”
How UVU and BYU are responding
On Thursday, Sept. 17, the state reported 911 new cases – 40 percent of which are in Utah County, which makes up 20 percent of the state’s population.
Brigham Young University tweeted Monday, Sept. 14 that they have disciplined 15 students so far for not following their off-campus safety requirements.
“We stand behind our warning that if someone chooses not to follow BYU’s COVID-19 safety requirements, on-campus privileges will be restricted,” they said.
Robin Ebmeyer, UVU’s director of emergency management and safety, expressed gratitude that most students and faculty have been compliant with the new safety measures. But ultimately, students are responsible for avoiding a full campus shut-down.
“What happens to BYU happens at UVU,” she said. “We ask that [students] really think about the social gatherings, large groups, and activities where spacing and masking are not encouraged. If they can stay healthy themselves we will meet our goal to stay open.”
Governor Herbert and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn have referenced dance parties as reasons cases have risen in Utah County, particularly among 18-24-year-olds. Hansen, however, said those mentions have been “broad” and no one has been formally asked to clamp down.
She believes it would be wrong to do so.
“It’s not the government’s place to enforce a mandate like that,” she said. “People who go [to dance classes and parties] go for the culture. Some of them don’t have much interaction outside of them at all. I think that kills people faster than COVID would.”