Officials at every public university in Utah announced Thursday that they are moving classes online, with the presidents of both the University of Utah and Utah State University appearing at a noon press conference with other top state officials to announce their plans.
They appeared along with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who announced a two-week limit on group gatherings of over 100 starting Monday, March 16, in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that the virus had become a global pandemic, prompting a domino effect of closures and containment measures both in Utah and across the country.
“Things in the past 24 hours have changed in a significant way,” Herbert said. “We’re taking a very proactive position in the state of Utah to see if we can’t get ahead of this issue.”
Many of Utah’s public universities are currently on spring break or are just returning, making the timing of the move a bit less jarring for those campus communities.
The limit on public gatherings to 100 people or less applies to church gatherings, conferences and concerts but does not apply to schools; however, schools are encouraged to implement social distancing measures, such as staggering start times and recess.
While the restrictions do not mean businesses with over 100 employees are required to close down, Herbert encouraged employers to allow remote work when possible.
“If you can work from home…now is the time to do so,” Herbert said. “We applaud all the businesses who’ve taken steps to help their employees work from home, and we encourage more to do so.”
Individuals over 60 years of age, a demographic that is more susceptible to COVID-19, and compromised individuals are also encouraged to avoid large gatherings of over 20 people.
After two weeks, Herbert said state officials will re-evaluate the situation.
“I’ve not come to these decisions and these recommendations lightly,” Herbert said. “This has come as we’ve seen this thing evolve over the past week, based on good science, based on the information that we’ve observed and seen throughout the world and certainly here in America.”
Individuals who experience symptoms of the virus, such as a cough, shortness of breath and/or a fever, are encouraged to use tele-health or call ahead to healthcare professionals as to not overwhelm the clinics and hospitals.
Herbert said Utahns should keep calm and do what they can to be prepared, but that they don’t need to take extreme measures, such as stockpiling bottled water.
“I hope people will be reasonable and rational,” Herbert said. “Fighting at Costco or Walmart over different issues out there and not being friendly in the process is something we don’t want to see. A run on stores and tempers flaring is not the Utah way.”
Herbert expressed optimism about the measures the state is taking.
“It’s better for us to be too early than to be too late,” Herbert said. “Utahns can take comfort, I believe, that these steps will significantly slow the spread of COVID-19.”