When’s the last time 400,000 people got together in Utah?
After being forced to cancel most of its festivities last year, America’s Freedom Festival is back and anticipating to draw over 400,000 guests to the various Fourth of July events this weekend, including filling more than 30,000 seats in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Stadium of Fire will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Saturday, bringing in Grammy-winning country musician Lee Greenwood, motorcycle stunt team Nitro Circus, 500-voice Millennial Choir and country singer Collin Raye. The event will culminate in the USA’s largest stadium fireworks show.
It’s anticipated to be one of the largest gatherings of people since March of last year, when COVID-19 restrictions began.
The events throughout the month will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, along with stricter guidelines imposed by BYU. The stadium will have hand-sanitizing stations to remind guests to stay hygienic, and seating will only be at two-thirds capacity.
“Our indoor events have signs — ‘If you’re sick, stay away,’” said Jim Evans, executive director for the festival. “Otherwise, outdoors, we’re letting people guide themselves. It’s been a trying year for America and for our community here in Utah, but our nation is strong and we’re overjoyed to be back in the stadium to celebrate our independence.”
While the festival is opening its doors to everyone, health officials warn guests to carefully consider the risks before coming to the festival. Case numbers are spiking again within the state, especially with the highly contagious delta variant taking a hold in Utah, according to Aislynn Tolman-Hill, public information officer for Utah County Health Department. In his press conference on Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Utah is seeing more of the delta variant than Los Angeles.
“People should really take into consideration that information if they’re going out and staying in close contact with others,” said Tolman-Hill. “That risk is something to weigh, especially if they’re unvaccinated.”
Vaccines are currently showing very good protection against the delta variant, according to Health Department and CDC data. For those who aren’t vaccinated, the CDC still advises social distancing and use of masks to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Regardless of the risks, Evans still feels safe going to the event this year, saying he believes most Provo residents have been vaccinated. However, as of Thursday, only 42% of Utah County residents have been fully vaccinated, state data shows. Some areas, like Eagle Mountain and Cedar Valley, reported a fully vaccinated rate below 30%.
Utah County has a long-standing tradition of actively opposing vaccinations, said Tolman-Hill.
“We certainly have a lot of individuals who have been very not just vaccine hesitant but just very anti, anti-vax, anti-vaccinations, that have been very vocal about that,” said Tolman-Hill.
Evans insists that he’s worked within local and state guidelines, as well as special guidelines proposed by BYU, to make sure that the event is safe.
“If people want to wear a mask, they’re welcome to,” said Evans. “We’re following all the normal protocols, and we’re working with the county and venues to make sure it’s a safe activity. We want people to enjoy family traditions again and celebrate our independence with this event.”