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Gov. Herbert, state officials address COVID-19 and Utah schools

FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2018, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday that the state will be taking preemptive public health measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in schools.

The recommendations also include guidelines for large gatherings, including churches, concerts and sporting events.

Preemptive Public Health Measures

Herbert announced a series of recommendations from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. He said he agreed with the task force’s recommendations, which he added were not made lightly.

“This is being done based on good science and what has been learned from other countries,” Herbert said.

“So far we have not seen any community spread of the virus,” he continued, saying that the decisions are based on the assumption that the virus will become more serious.

The recommendations of the task force apply to the next two weeks but could last for longer. They include:

  • Limit mass gatherings to less than 100, including church meetings, concerts, and conferences. This does not apply to schools or businesses.
  • Those over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems should avoid gatherings of more than 20 people.
  • If you are sick, stay home. If you can work from home, do so.
  • Local health departments are in charge of the assessments of local schools.

“I believe that these steps will significantly slow the spread of COVID-19 here in our state,” Herbert said. “We are hoping for the best, but we are preparing for the worst. It’s going to take all of us working together.”

SCHOOL CLOSURES

In conjunction with the announcements made by the Governor and others, a number of schools across Utah made the decision to cancel classes and move to online instruction.

K-12

Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction, says that the decision to cancel schools is not taken lightly and that as of now there are no plans to cancel K-12 schools statewide.

“Safety for the students and the adults who serve them is our highest priority,” Dickson said, adding that the decision to close K-12 schools would be a local one.

However, her office sent recommendations to all K-12 schools to cancel all out-of-state travel over the next two weeks. At that time, she added, they will re-evaluate the recommendation.

“Our situation is different than that of higher education. While many of our schools are able to implement distance learning through digital means, we’re not capable of a full state transition at this time,” she said.

However, digital or distance learning is something Dickson said the state board of education is currently working on.

Dickson says that another issue they are considering closely is the impact that sending students home will have on working parents.

Murray City School District

Officials announced the Murray district’s schools would be closed until further notice, beginning on Friday, March 13, 2020. In Murray, unlike other school districts, officials said they became aware of possible direct contact exposure to the virus within the district.

Utah Catholic Schools

Effective March 16th through March 31st, all Utah Catholic Schools will begin online classes. Each Catholic school in the state will reach out to parents directly with more information.

Along with school closure, effective March 13th through the 31st, all Catholic places of worship and religious education programs will be closed.

Brigham Young University

BYU announced that graduation-related activities this spring will be canceled. Additionally, all sporting events will be closed to the public. Classes are running as scheduled.

Salt Lake Community College

SLCC will move all courses to online-only beginning on March 23 through the end of their semester on May 7.

Southern Utah University

SUU will move all classes to online instruction starting on March 23 through April 23.

University of Utah

“The University of Utah will shift to all-online instruction beginning March 18 for the rest of the spring semester,” school officials said.

President Ruth Watkins said housing and food services will be available throughout the rest of the semester, but asked where possible for students traveling home for Spring Break to remain there for the rest of the semester.

Utah State University

USU will move all courses online beginning March 18 and have canceled classes on from March 13-17. All campus activities are canceled.

Weber State University

Weber State is suspending classes from March 13-17 to allow staff time to prepare for online teaching. The school says that they will move all classes online beginning on March 18th for the rest of the semester. All other events will be canceled until March 30th.

Westminster College

The college will extend spring break through next week. After that, classes will be offered online for the rest of the semester.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus 

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading: 

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.  
  • Don’t touch your face. 
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet) 
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.) 
  • Get a flu shot. 

Local resources

State of Utah:  https://coronavirus.utah.gov/

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States