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Utah County leaders warn against illegal gatherings on New Year’s Eve

Posted at 5:02 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 19:52:29-05

UTAH COUNTY — New Year’s Eve is known to be one of the largest party days of the year historically. This year, health leaders hope people will celebrate differently.

The group "YNG + DMB" posted on Instagram announcing they will be hosting a "Hip Hop New Years 2021" party.

“We want to let a BUNCH of people in!!,” one post read.

The Utah County-based group has received backlash for throwing large parties during the pandemic.

READ: Spike in COVID-19 cases connected to young adults in Utah County, health officials say

It is unclear where the party will be located, as the event’s location will be announced the day of, organizers said on Instagram.

It is always concerning when organizers don’t announce the location of an event, Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.

“One of the ways where you know that they shouldn’t feel good about what they are doing is because they don’t announce the location until the day before and the reason they do that is because they think there is less chance of us being discovered and our party being broken up,” the Utah County Sheriff’s Office public information officer said.

At this point, a spokesperson for the Utah County Health Department confirmed to FOX 13 News that they had not received an event permit from the group. She added that the potential of any illegal mass gatherings on New Year’s Eve is concerning.

“When we do see events, especially from groups, organizations where they are repeat offenders so to speak, just over and over and over and their actions don’t really change, it’s really highly irresponsible for them as individuals, as organizations,” department spokeswoman Aislynn Tolman-Hill said.

People need to have all of the proper permits to host a large-scale event in Utah County, which includes an event form being sent to the Utah County Health Department.

“Anyone who wants to hold a party on New Year’s Eve better understand that they need to have their permits in place, they need to be gathering in a way that is responsible for socially distancing, and doing so in a way that will — while maintaining their constitutional rights to gather — are really adhering to their societal responsibilities to help us get through this pandemic,” Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said.

On Halloween, a party of an estimated 5,000 or more people gathered at the Knolls near Utah Lake.

No charges have been filed in the Halloween party case yet, but Leavitt said "without question" charges are coming. Since it is an ongoing investigation, Leavitt was unable to speak about specifics of the case.

“As Utah County Attorney, my obligation is to balance both our constitutional rights and our societal responsibilities, and that’s a difficult thing to balance from time to time — especially during COVID,” he said.

Charges will never be brought against people for not wearing a mask in Utah County, Leavitt said, but there are certain COVID-19-related health violations that could result in prosecution.

“For-profit gatherings that are intended to bring thousands of people together for the sole purpose of those who are organizing it for them to profit by those, that is an entirely different matter,” he said.

Having a large scale gathering in the middle of the pandemic without the proper permits and precautions is "absolutely not the right thing to do," Tolman-Hill said. There have been several illegal gatherings in Utah County, including a Halloween Party in Lehi that resulted in charges being filed.

“That exponential risk is just incredible for what people are willingly putting themselves into and actually inviting people to put them at risk. And it’s not just them, that exponential risk is then passed on to the entire community,” she said.

The reason large-scale events without permits are often broken up, Sgt. Cannon said, are mainly because of things such as sanitation, security, parking, potential of illegal activity and safety concerns for guests. This has been the reason illegal parties have been broken up by police for years, long before COVID-19.

Law enforcement also has to take into account their own safety when it comes to breaking up parties, Sgt. Cannon said.

FOX13 News reached out to the organizers of YNG + DMB for comment but have not heard back at the time of publication.

For the latest COVID-19 guidelines and case counts in Utah, click here.