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As State Reopens, Some Large Events Are Coming Back. Others Might Take A While.

Photo of an empty soccer stadium
Wikimedia Commons
The Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake County is opening this weekend, hosting the first Monarchs soccer game since the pandemic began.

Once the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., major events like conferences and concert tours were postponed or outright canceled. But as Utah reopens, pulling back restrictions on large gatherings, some are beginning to come back. 

Most of the state is in the “yellow” or low risk phase of pandemic guidelines, which generally doesn’t allow for private gatherings of more than 50 people. It does, however, let large venues and event spaces bring in up to 3,000 people for an indoor space, and 6,000 if outdoors. 

Venues are able to do that because they’re already built for large crowds, said Ron Lund, enforcement coordinator for the Salt Lake County Health Department. But operators have to show public health officials how they’ll meet current safety guidelines, including their plans for keeping people 6 feet apart, disinfecting spaces regularly and gathering information for contact tracing attendees.

“So first and foremost, we have signage up that says, ‘hey, if you don't feel good, please don't come in,’” said Dan Hayes, general manager of the Mountain America Expo Center in Salt Lake County. “If you do feel good, when you buy your ticket please complete this information for us so we can contact you in the event that there is an outbreak.”

The venue is hosting four multi-day events this month, including an amateur basketball tournament already underway. Hayes said normally the space’s occupancy is based on providing 5 square feet per person, allowing up to about 16,000 people. But now they’re limiting that to 36 square feet per person number, cutting the total possible occupancy by 80%. 

The Rio Tinto Stadium will also operate in a limited capacity. They’re allowing a maximum of 5,300 people in — out of more than 20,000 seats — for a Monarchs game Saturday, the first since the pandemic began. Fans will have to wear face masks at all times, except when eating, and enter the stadium after certain times and through specific entrances. 

The Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake will also start playing again this month, but games will take place in a single venue in Florida, and no fans will be allowed in the stands.

But concerts are a little more complicated. Even if state guidelines allowed spaces like the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City to bring them back, there are other factors at play, said Amanda Covington with the Larry H. Miller Group.

“Concerts are an entire industry of their own,” Covington said. “You have the artists, all of the crew and staff that put it on, the promoter, the venue. And so a concert tour is probably not going to happen unless they have 10 to 12 cities they can play in.” 

Otherwise, she said, it's just not economically viable.

For the nine Utah counties now in the green — or “new normal” — risk phase, they no longer face strict restrictions on private gatherings and large events, though people are still encouraged to use face masks when they’re unable to stay 6 feet apart. Public health officials continue to warn, however, that the virus still poses a risk. The state saw the highest single day increase in new cases Wednesday, with more than 700 positive cases reported. 

“I think people have to really consider that choice to attend an event and weigh that risk, just as we do with other things in life,” Lund said.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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