Los Angeles County deputies arrested nearly 160 people — many of whom were not wearing masks — who attended an illegal “super-spreader” party over the weekend despite surging coronavirus cases, authorities said Tuesday.

The Saturday night raid on a location in the high desert city of Palmdale came after Sheriff Alex Villanueva vowed to crack down on “super-spreader events” even as he instructs his deputies to avoid enforcement of the county and state health orders for restaurants and other small businesses.

The party, however, resulted in the arrests of 158 people, 35 of whom were juveniles. Authorities found six weapons at the home and were able to rescue a 17-year-old human trafficking victim.

“Even without the health order, these actions were criminal in nature,” Villanueva said Tuesday during a news conference.

The “massive underground party” occurred at a vacant home in a residential neighbourhood without the owners’ knowledge. The sheriff said the organizers, who were also arrested and had reportedly also promoted previous parties in Pomona and Ontario, broke in and used a moving truck to bring in their equipment.

Villanueva said his department is tracking other underground parties, which typically happen weekly and could also be super-spreader events.

KTTV Fox 11 first reported the Palmdale party and arrests.

“It was what we call a super-spreader for COVID,” Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Zarris told KTTV.

Zarris told the TV station that deputies received intelligence about the party, and the people inside were not wearing masks. Sheriff’s officials said they want to send a message to other potential party promoters and attendees.

“We just want to make sure that this doesn’t happen, especially in our area. We’ll let them know that this is not acceptable,” Zarris said.

Villanueva has said his deputies would focus on education and voluntary compliance for county and state health orders.

The sheriff said his department would not enforce the orders at struggling businesses “where they’re deciding between complying with the orders and putting food on the table.”

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