Broadcasting live from the Utah State Capitol on Thursday afternoon, March 12, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state of Utah would restrict gatherings of more than 100 people for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16, as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This includes church gatherings, concerts, sporting events and other large gatherings where the possibility of spreading the virus would be increased, the governor explained. Although Utah has not yet seen community spreading of the virus from the five confirmed cases in the state, Gov. Herbert expressed his desire to take proactive steps to stop the potential spread of the virus.
“It’s better for us to be too early than to be too late,” he said.
As a result of these new state guidelines, it is advised that Church gatherings, including Sunday worship services, throughout the state of Utah should not take place during the next two weeks.
“We take this seriously and have done for the last couple of weeks,” Gov. Herbert said. The new limitations are reflective of the “heightened awareness” of the virus in the state and demonstrate how government leaders are “taking a proactive position here in the state of Utah to see if we can’t get ahead of this issue.”
The Church announced on Friday that all public areas in and around Temple Square are now closed until further notice. This includes the Conference Center, Assembly Hall, Tabernacle, North Visitors’ Center, Family History Library, Church History Museum, Relief Society Building, Church Office Building, Lion House and Beehive House.
"The construction work on the Salt Lake Temple will continue as planned," the Church's statement said. "At Welfare Square, operations will remain open, but public tours are temporarily discontinued going forward."
Many of the genealogical resources available through the Family History Library continue to be available through FamilySearch.org and personal assistance will continue to be provided online through FamilySearch Communities and Family History Library Classes and Webinars.
The governor's announcement on Thursday included details about the special task force, led by Lieutenant Gov. Spencer Cox, that has been formed to oversee the government’s ongoing efforts to learn about the virus and implement necessary restrictions to address the ongoing concern for the virus in the state.
For the time being, Gov. Herbert said, the limit on gatherings does not apply to public school classes, although further guidelines will be released as more information is gathered.
Announcements were also made at the press conference that the University of Utah and Utah State University will be moving to online courses in the coming weeks to help limit large gatherings and follow the guidelines set forth by the governor and the special task force.
Similar measures are also being taken at Brigham Young University and other Church-owned schools, as announced by the Church yesterday.
Yesterday, BYU announced on its website that classes on March 13, 16 and 17 have been canceled and “all courses at BYU, including its Salt Lake Center, will resume March 18 through remote instruction.” Classes that cannot reasonably meet remotely, including labs and performance-based courses, should communicate with their corresponding college deans or department heads regarding exceptions.
Additionally, BYU announced on Friday that all of its spring study abroad programs and performing tours have been canceled until further notice.
On Thursday, Gov. Herbert asked that those who are immunocompromised or over the age of 60, but are still healthy, limit their gatherings to no more than 20 people as they are more susceptible to the virus.
Those sick should not be gathering, he said. “If you are sick, you need to stay home to avoid infecting others.”
Gov. Herbert’s announcement came following a Thursday morning update from the Church that senior missionaries and those with compromised immune systems serving in 22 European countries would be sent home and asked to self-quarantine.
Earlier this week, Church leaders also announced that general conference would be available to Latter-day Saints around the world via broadcast only and that no formal gathering of the public would take place in Salt Lake City. Church gatherings, including sacrament meetings, have been suspended worldwide.
This virus, Gov. Herbert explained, is “going to have some impact and disruption” He asked employers to be understanding as people may miss work over the coming weeks, either when they are infected or in contact with others who are possibly infected. “The health of our citizens is our primary concern,” he said.
Although Gov. Herbert encouraged people to prepare by stocking up on the items they would need for being quarantined for two weeks, he said, “I hope people will be reasonable and rational.”
The governor asked that people be courteous and rational in public and not cause unnecessary panic by making runs on stores for supplies.
Calling on citizens to work together in a spirit of collaboration and understanding, he said, "We are hoping for the best but we are preparing for the worst."
At the press conference, it was also announced that the City Creek Shopping Center would close today out of an abundance of caution following a report that someone shopping in the facility on March 10 had been confirmed to have the coronavirus. The shopping center is expected to reopen for business tomorrow.