Did the coronavirus spread at Sundance? It’s possible, state epidemiologist says. | ParkRecord.com
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Did the coronavirus spread at Sundance? It’s possible, state epidemiologist says.

Main Street as seen during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Could the coronavirus have been spreading in Park City during the Sundance Film Festival in January, several weeks before the first confirmed case in the area was diagnosed?

State epidemiologist Angela Dunn didn’t rule it out Wednesday after The Hollywood Reporter published an article detailing anecdotal accounts of several Sundance attendees in the film industry who said they became severely ill with symptoms of the disease during or shortly after the festival.

“It is definitely possible that COVID-19 was circulating at Sundance,” Dunn said during a press briefing.

With the pandemic still in its early stages when the festival began in late January, few Parkites and Sundance-goers were likely concerned about contracting the disease. The festival, bringing more than 100,000 people to Park City, kicked off two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Jan. 21 what it says was the first known case of the coronavirus in the U.S., involving a man in Washington state. 

Though there were not known cases in Utah at that time, Dunn said officials took some steps to guard against COVID-19 during the festival.

“Sundance seems like it was a really long time ago, but it was definitely at the beginning of this outbreak,” she said. “We worked really closely with the Sundance planners and Summit County to set up screening and education for all the Sundance-goers about symptoms. Because at that point, we hadn’t had any cases, and so we were really just monitoring for symptoms.”

It wasn’t until March 11 that the first known coronavirus case in Summit County was announced. The county soon became a hot spot for the virus, much like other mountain resort towns in the West that bring in droves of ski vacationers.

After a countywide stay-at-home order was put in place toward the end of March, the spread of the disease slowed, leading officials to lift the order May 1. As of Thursday, there have been 382 confirmed coronavirus cases in Summit County and no reported deaths.

It’s not uncommon for Sundance attendees to become sick during the festival, a result of the amount of handshaking and mingling that happens during the 11-day event, held each January during the traditional flu season.

The Sundance Institute said in a prepared statement that it is not aware of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at this year’s festival.

“The health of our guests is very important to us so we’re very troubled by reports that any of our festival attendees were unwell either during or after our January edition,” the statement said.

The statement added that festival organizers continue to prepare for next year’s event, with an eye toward safety.

“As we plan for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival we are coordinating with health authorities at local, state and the federal level and considering all measures to ensure the safety of the Sundance community, including social distancing in theaters and other public spaces and increased sanitation practices.”

Dunn advised people who believe they may have contracted the coronavirus during Sundance to seek an antibody test through their health department or health provider. Antibody tests are used to determine whether someone has had the coronavirus, though health experts have said the accuracy of antibody tests varies.

“Other than that, there’s not a lot of interventions that would be useful to public health at this point,” she said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from the Sundance Institute.


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