Rising COVID cases in Utah lead Sundance officials to cancel in-person festival

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Published Saturday, January 8, 2022
by Kim Jarrett | The Center Square

(The Center Square) - The Sundance Film Festival will be virtual this year, organizers said, citing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases as the reason. 

"While it is a deep loss to not have the in-person experience in Utah, we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services," Sundance officials said in a statement. "But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County's health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate."

Friday, Salt Lake County implemented a mask mandate through February 7.

The annual festival held in Park City brings millions of dollars into Utah's economy every year, according to a report on the 2020 festival written by Sundance organizers. About 116,800 people attended the festival in 2020, which added an estimated $17.8 million in state and local tax revenue. The impact on the state's gross domestic product was $167.5 million, according to the report. 

The Sundance Festival is organized by the Sundance Institute, which was founded by actor Robert Redford. The first festivals were held in Salt Lake City before they were moved in 1981 to Park City, where they are held each January, according to information from the institute.

The 2021 festival was held virtually, but organizers were hoping to have a hybrid festival this year with part of the activities taking place in-person. 

Like most states, Utah is seeing surge in COVID-19 cases, mostly because of the more contagious omicron variant. The Utah Department of Health's (UDOH) website showed 9,066 new cases were reported Wednesday. 

"The numbers will change slightly from day-to-day as we receive test results and assign them to the date the test was conducted," said Tom Hudachko of the UDOH Public Information Office.

Gov. Spencer Cox encouraged residents Thursday to get vaccinations and booster shots in a video message. 

"Recent COVID-19 case counts and deaths are a sobering reminder of just how contagious this Omicron variant is," Cox said in the message. "Like every other state, we expect record case numbers for the next few weeks. Vaccinations and boosters have been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths. They are the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community."

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