UTAH COUNTY — The people behind an event that attracted up to 10,000 people in Utah County say they're sorry, and they never intended for the party to get that big. Still, police say they're likely to face some sort of punishment for not having a permit for the event.
People who work with Utah Tonight Events say "The Protest On Halloween" was meant to raise awareness about the negative side effects of the COVID-19 shutdown. Karson Jensen volunteered to photograph the event, and says the organizers sent direct invitations to their followers. However, he says those followers invited their friends, who invited more friends, and so on. Eventually, word spread like wildfire.
Jensen says, "The organizers have said to me they're sorry for the unanticipated events and the way things unfolded."
Jensen believes the fact that so many people attended the event proves many people are suffering from the effects of the isolation caused by the coronavirus. He says domestic violence cases are up and people are dealing with mental health issues that aren't fully being addressed. Jensen believes the event organizers still want to address these issues, but, will they hold another event like this?
"In that fashion? No. I do not believe, to my knowledge, that it will continue in that fashion," Jensen says.
Health officials are not just concerned about the large number of people at "The Protest" who didn't appear to be wearing masks. They're also concerned about a message that was reportedly posted to Utah Tonight's Instagram story. The since-removed post urges people to "Get life back to normal by not getting tested for COVID-19." The post continues to say, "Getting tested simply provides the mob with more ammunition to control our lives."
Representatives of the Salt Lake County Health Department say this isn't the first time they've seen people spreading messages like this. They tell KSL they've seen three or four similar posts urging people to avoid COVID-19 testing. They say this advice is extremely reckless, since people could be infecting others without knowing it. Plus, this doesn't allow health workers to track where the virus is spreading.
Even though the organizers are apologizing, they're not off the hook. Utah County Sheriff's Sergeant Spencer Cannon says the event planners will likely face some sort of legal consequences, but investigators need more time to determine what those consequences will be.
"We have events that get carried out like this once, twice or three times a year. It's not very often that we actually get it finalized on the day of," he says.
Cannon says, as far as they know, the group didn't even apply for any kind of mass gathering license. He says many things can go wrong if event organizers don't plan everything properly.
"You've got as low as 3,000 and as many as 10,000 and no toilets, no plan for parking and no plan for a medical response," according to Cannon.