TOOELE — A judge issued an order Friday prohibiting a Saturday country music concert organized by activists who oppose public health restrictions,
Third District Judge Dianna Gibson sided Friday with Tooele County leaders who argued the free show, featuring headliner Collin Raye, would put more Utahns at risk of falling sick with COVID-19.
The county leaders sought a judge’s order barring the concert after issuing an official notice of closure earlier this week to Jason Manning, owner of the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch. Gibson’s Friday decision comes two days after she granted a temporary restraining order restricting the venue from hosting the concert.
Tooele County leaders argued that show organizers planned to flout state and county health orders restricting mass gatherings. The county said the organizers also do not have the proper permission to put on the show after they sidestepped the county’s permit process.
The activists have countered that other large events are taking place and have said the gathering of an anticipated 3,000 to 5,000 at the expansive venue will not pose a serious risk.
If Manning decides to hold the concert, the county has warned, he could face criminal charges.
“This is a clear threat to public health,” Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead said. He told the judge the organizers sought to bully the small county by holding the show there, potentially sickening residents and possibly causing them to be hospitalized or die.
Paxton Guymon, an attorney representing Manning and activist Eric Moutsos, emphasized the concert would take place outside and noted a gathering of more than 50 was taking place at the nearby Deseret Peak Complex Friday.
“This venue is a 40-acre venue in the middle of nowhere,” with no neighboring homes or businesses, Guymon added, noting the risk of infection is believed to be less outdoors.
Moutsos, the concert sponsor who has emphasized the show will go on as planned, noted he would have masks on hand for any concertgoers who may want them, plus hand sanitzer and hand-washing stations.
Moutsos, founder of the Utah Business Revival, said he feels passionately about reinvigorating small businesses. He detailed his group’s recent safety measures at a series of events and said it calls for 7 feet of social distancing.
“We feel like we’ve taken a lot of precautions, in fact more so than places like Lagoon and Costco and Walmart, as far as safety,” Moutsos said.
He said he sought out the Tooele County venue because he was inspired by Manning’s move to hold a graduation ceremony there recently. The concert was originally going to be held in Kaysville until residents and the Kaysville City Council pushed back against Mayor Katie Witt’s decision to allow it.
Tooele County health officer Jeff Coombs noted the state recorded its highest daily count of new cases Friday at 343. Tooele’s number of hospitalizations has grown in the last week, although none there have died of COVID-19 to date, he said.
Coombs said large outdoor gatherings pose risks, and the disease is transmitted by people breathing, talking, singing and sneezing.
While the governor’s order permits gatherings of fewer than 1,000 if there are precautions like tracking attendance and social distancing, the event’s organizers did not apply for a smaller event permit, Coombs said.
Manning countered that when he spoke to the county health department about applying for such a permit, he was told they were not being granted.
He said he hoped liquor sales from the concert would boost business for him and other vendors. The venue and its bar, the Brazen Head Saloon, are his only source of income and have been hard hit, he said.
Guymon described a “crazy, hyperactive environment” that has given way to hysteria amid the virus and fueled opposition to the concert. He argued the risk that his clients may violate the health orders is not serious enough to warrant a judge’s order.
“We’re not talking here about the end of the world,” he said. “Nobody’s forcing people to attend.”
But Broadhead compared the argument to telling people staring at a loaded gun that they can’t do anything until after the weapon fires.
“We don’t need to sit around and wait for people to get sick and die,” he said.
This story will be updated.