City officials concerned by parties held amid rising COVID-19 cases

Party-goers dance at a party hosted by Provo company Young/Dumb on Friday, Sept. 4. (Preston Crawley)

City officials have expressed concerns over unmasked indoor dance parties in Provo but have not cited the organizers for violating the mask mandate.

Provo’s mask ordinance requires organizers of indoor public gatherings of more than 50 people to require attendees to wear face masks and post clear notices about the face mask requirement at the entrance.

The ordinance says organizers of public gatherings that violate the mask mandate could be fined up to $500 and the maximum fine for individuals violating the ordinance is $55. According to Public Information Officer Nicole Martin, there have been no cited violators as of Sept. 16. 

Martin said the city will respond to situations in the future where attendees were not following the mask mandate “as information is presented to us and deal with each based on the facts of the specific circumstance.”

A flyer for a Sept. 4 Young/Dumb party said attendees needed a mask to get into the party, but pictures show that mask-wearing was not enforced once inside.

Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson said his department received a noise complaint about the dance party, but no reports of people violating the mask mandate. However, a video posted by Young/Dumb co-founder Kwaku El on his Instagram story the night of the party, shows El and other party attendees talking to officers, all without their masks on.

After arriving at the party officers discovered there were too many people inside the venue and called the city fire marshal, who ultimately shut the party down because of fire code violations.

Ferguson said in enforcing the mask mandate, the police department’s focus is on educating individuals and only using the fine as a last resort. However, he said the department has not received a lot of calls reporting people who were not following the mask mandate.

The Daily Universe reached out to Mayor Michelle Kaufusi for her thoughts on the situation but she was unavailable for comment. 

City Council member George Handley said he was disappointed in the organizers who threw the party and concerned about what unmasked indoor gatherings could mean for the number of COVID-19 cases in Provo. “Anytime you have that many people in a closed space without proper protocol, you’re putting the whole community at risk. And it’s really narrow to think otherwise,” he said.

Handley said he was also concerned that the event and its aftermath could give others the impression that they won’t face any consequences for violating the mask mandate.

Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield said while he doesn’t want to stop people from having fun and it is not his department’s jurisdiction to enforce the mask mandate, he was concerned as a community member that people weren’t taking the mask mandate more seriously.

“The people that you run into at train stations, at grocery stores, walking down the halls, some of those people are high-risk individuals,” Schofield said. “I wear a mask to watch out for the people I’m around.”

Young/Dumb had previously advertised its parties on social media as a way to support the economy that been stifled due to COVID-19, especially small business owners.

Handley said the purpose of the mask ordinance was to allow life to go forward safely. But if Provo has a major outbreak of COVID-19, he said, things will change for the worse. “If you’re trying to help the economy and believe you’re going to help it by ignoring the health guidelines, you’re kidding yourself.”

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