Health officials point to Utah County young adults for increase in COVID cases

Students walk on campus on the first day of Fall Semester. State and county health officials are now pointing at Utah County young adults for causing recent surges in COVID-19 cases. (Preston Crawley)

State health officials are calling out young adults in Utah County for their role in the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.  

“We are experiencing a clear upward trend in case counts right now,” Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said in a statement Monday. “This trend is being driven, in large part, by an increase in cases among college-aged young adults in Utah County.”

The Utah Department of Health reported 556 new cases on Monday, Sept. 14, with 185 coming from Utah County. Of the 556 new cases in the state, 40% were from people aged 15-24.

So far, BYU has reported a total of 258 cases among the campus community on Sept. 11, up from the 146 the university reported on Sept. 9. Utah Valley University has a self-reported case count of 198 as of Sept. 14, up from the 138 the school reported on Sept. 11.

“Since last Friday (Sept. 11), 39% of all new cases have come from Utah County, this despite the fact that Utah County’s population represents just 20% of the state’s population,” Dunn said. “Most of these cases are among 14-24 year olds, and the majority of those are among college-aged young adults.”

Aislynn Tolman-Hill, spokesperson for the Utah County Health Department, confirmed that a large portion of the recent surge of positive cases can be traced back to two businesses that organize dance parties in Utah County. Although Tolman-Hill did not disclose the names of the two businesses, she acknowledged it shouldn’t be hard for someone to figure out who they are, based on recent media coverage.

Tolman-Hill went on to say one of the businesses is linked to BYU students, while the other hosts country-genre parties a couple times a week.

Utah Country Dance has been hosting “Country Dance Provo” twice a week in downtown Provo. Company manager Miguel Guzman, however, said he hasn’t heard from local health officials about the dance nights potentially being tied to an increase of COVID cases.

“We haven’t heard anything at all,” Guzman said.

Young/Dumb, a Provo-based company that has hosted a series of dance parties since Aug. 7, has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy on social media. Shortly after the company’s latest “Mask-Querade” party on Sept. 11, Young/Dumb founder and BYU student Kwaku El posted a video on Instagram Live explaining why he planned to continue hosting such events.

Provo dance company Young/Dumb has held multiple parties in the last few months despite the pandemic. The Utah County Health department recently said it can trace some positive COVID-19 cases to these parties. (Preston Crawley)

“I’m not going to stop,” El’s video caption read. “I know exactly what I’m doing and it’s purposeful. We need to push for going back to normal. If we keep social distancing, we are going to lose everything.”

Tolman-Hill noted she did not know the exact number of positive cases linked to the two businesses. However, she said contact tracers have definitively linked multiple cases to their events.

“These events where there are lots of people, no social distancing, no mask-wearing, that’s just a prime place for transmission of COVID,” Tolman-Hill said. “We have definitely seen that happening.”

BYU officials announced via Twitter on Sept. 4 that they were concerned with “reports and videos circulating about off-campus activities.” They went on to say that issues with those unwilling to comply with COVID safety requirements would be “addressed through local areas of campus and the Dean of Students Office.”

On Monday, Sept. 14, school officials again took to Twitter to warn students that for those who choose not to follow BYU’s COVID-19 safety requirements, “on-campus privileges will be restricted.” According to the Tweet, BYU had already “imposed disciplinary measures for 15 students who refused to follow these requirements.”

“These measures include suspension or restrictions from on-campus participation, such as classes, work or in-person campus services,” a follow-up Tweet from BYU’s official account read.

The school did not disclose the names of the 15 students who have already been disciplined. The Daily Universe reached out to El to see if he was one but received no response.

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