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Was Sundance 2020 one of the first festivals hit by coronavirus in the US?

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A host of attendees at 2020 Sundance claim that the film festival may have been one of the first places to be struck by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to an investigation by The Hollywood Reporter, many festival-goers came down with symptoms connected with the virus when the event kicked off in Park City in Salt Lake City on January 23, just two days after patient zero was confirmed in Washington on January 21.

  • Read more: All the films and TV shows suspended due to coronavirus

Actress Ashley Jackson, who attended the event for the world premiere of Blast Beat, a family drama in which she co-stars, said: “I started texting other people who had been at Sundance, and one said, ‘Yo, we just started calling it the Sundance Plague on social media’.

“We all had the same symptoms, all had the cough, all had trouble breathing at night. Some of us got humidifiers and some got oxygen. And we were all just miserable for three to four weeks. And then out of nowhere, we’re back living in society like nothing is wrong. And then I see all these coronavirus stories, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

The Black List founder Franklin Leonard, who is a Sundance regular, also said he began feeling sick on January 28, the day he flew from Salt Lake City back to Los Angeles.

“Landed with a sore throat, and by Wednesday I was barely functional,” he added. “[I] was as sick as I’ve ever been for two weeks. Only really felt 100 percent by the weekend of the Oscars.”

According to the Summit County Health Department, the first official case of COVID-19 in the county was documented on March 10.

A spokesperson for the Sundance festival also said there were no reported cases at the festival adding: “We’re sorry to hear that any of our festival attendees were unwell either during or after our January edition. We are not aware of any confirmed festival-connected cases of COVID-19.”

But Dean Hart, a microbiologist and expert in virus transmission, said there was a good chance coronavirus did sweep through Park City during the run of the festival given that the Wuhan lockdown began on January 23, the same day Sundance started, despite no cases officially being confirmed.

“Logic dictates that they most probably did have it,” he added. “With Sundance, you’ve got the perfect formula for this virus to really go to town and contaminate everybody.”

Over 76,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US so far.

Meanwhile, Robert De Niro was among a list of celebrities leading a call for politicians to avoid a “return to normal” post-lockdown, and to instead “undertake a profound overhaul of our goals, values, and economies”. Other names signing the letter included Madonna and Cate Blanchett.

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