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Summit County Board of Health hears COVID-related rules for this year’s Sundance Film Festival

After a mostly virtual 2021 festival, Sundance organizers have unveiled their COVID-19 protocols ahead of this year's celebration.

This year at Sundance, the coolest wristband in town might be a little bit different — it might be the one announcing the wearer has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the 48-hour testing requirements do not apply to members of the public attending screenings or talks.

Masks and vaccines: Those are the primary tools Sundance organizers are relying on to make this year’s festival as safe as possible.

After a mostly virtual fest in 2021, the annual independent film celebration will be back in Park City Jan. 20-30. Plans include both online and in-person screenings. Sundance organizers on Monday told the Summit County Board of Health how the festival intends to keep the virus in check.

Vaccines and masks will be required for everyone. In addition, people going to receptions, parties or seated meals with more than 20 guests must also supply negative tests within 48 hours of those events. Members of the public attending films or talks aren’t subject to testing.

If someone tests positive, that means a 10-day quarantine, effectively ending their in-person festival experience.

Phil Bondurant, Summit County’s health director, said his office has worked closely advising the festival, though the department does not have the authority to mandate particular measures.

“I believe, personally, that they are the utmost protections that we can offer for an event like this to come: requiring vaccinations, requiring masks,” Bondurant said.

Sundance organizers described an extensive testing and vaccine verification program run in conjunction with a third-party organization. Organizers said the third-party group has worked at events across the country and has labs in different areas ready to process tests.

Festivalgoers must prove they’re fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization-approved vaccine administered at least two weeks before the festival begins. Sundance employees, volunteers, artists and members of the press and film industry — though not members of the general public — must be tested within 48 hours of arrival or when they arrive.

Sundance will set up testing and vaccine verification hubs. The tests will be free and available even if you’re not attending the festival. According to the festival’s website, most at-home testing kits will not satisfy the requirements because they don’t verify when the test was taken.

Test results must be uploaded to a verification portal, which starts a 48-hour countdown of the test's validity.

Those who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive must quarantine for five days and receive a negative test to be admitted to events.

Summit County Board of Health Chair Chris Cherniak asked the festival’s Health Safety Operations Manager Yasmin Abbyad whether there was any possibility of ending that quarantine early.

“So I’m out, I’m on the sideline for 10 days if I test positive no matter how many negative tests I try to offer you on day six and eight?” Cherniak asked.

“Correct,” Abbyad said.

The Summit County Council’s representative on the board, Roger Armstrong, said the plans sounded good. But he said enforcement has proven tricky for county policies, and asked how organizers were planning to deal with VIPs who might think the rules don’t apply to them.

Gina Duncan, a Sundance Institute producing director, said the rules apply equally to everybody.

“We've been very clear from the beginning that there are no exceptions. A call I have tonight is actually with talent who is potentially looking for an exception, and I'm holding a hard line there. And that's because, you know, it's the safe and proper thing to do," Duncan said on Monday. "… There is still going to be someone who will potentially show up and say, ‘I'm vax-verified, I took a test, leave me alone.’ And that we are prepared to remove those individuals if need be.”

Duncan added that festival staff will undergo de-escalation training, which should help deal with unruly situations.

As for face-coverings, attendees must wear a mask while standing in line or in indoor spaces unless actively eating or drinking.

According to Monday’s presentation, talent and on-air personalities are allowed to take off their masks for any on-camera activities.

Tickets for this year’s festival go on sale Dec. 17.

Editor's note: Summit County Board of Health Chair Chris Cherniak co-hosts a weekly show on KPCW.

Corrected: December 8, 2021 at 2:05 PM MST
This story has been updated to reflect that the 48-hour testing requirements do not apply to members of the public attending screenings or talks.
Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.