Lehi's newest elementary is small -- for now 08

Third-grader Jude Scott, 8, reads through a lesson at Liberty Hills Elementary School on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Lehi. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday the “soft closure” of all of Utah’s public K-12 schools in a preventative effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Schools will be dismissed for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16. Herbert said at a press conference Friday that the state will reevaluate the closure at a later time since the current situation is rapidly evolving.

The soft closure, or dismissal, means that schools can maintain services like school lunch, supports for students with disabilities and tutoring, said Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of K-12 schools.

Teachers will still be in the building, she said.

On Thursday, Utah’s public schools were told to prepare for closure, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“This situation is changing rapidly,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at the press conference. “In some sense, that is a really good thing because it means that our information is becoming more reliable, and our decision making processes are becoming more sophisticated.”

The new move comes a day after Herbert called to restrict public gatherings.

At a press conference Thursday, Herbert announced the state’s recommendation to limit mass gatherings to groups of 100 or fewer healthy people.

He also encouraged those over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems to avoid groups over the size of 20 people.

The recommendation to limit mass gatherings would be in place for two weeks, he said. At the end of that period, the situation will be reevaluated.

He also asked local health departments to protect high-risk populations by restricting access to senior care centers, and to monitor employees and visitors for symptoms of COVID-19.

“I’ve not come to these decisions lightly,” Herbert said Thursday. “This has come as we’ve seen this thing evolve over this past week, based on good science, based on the information we’ve observed and seen throughout the world and certainly here in America.”

These recommendations come from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, which is composed of members with a breadth of expertise and experience, Herbert said Thursday.

The state currently has five confirmed COVID-19 cases of residents in Davis County, the Weber-Morgan health district and Summit County, as well as two players for the Utah Jazz.

Anyone who is worried that they have COVID-19 should contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707.

Contact reporter Megan Olsen at molsen@standard.net or 801-625-4227. Follow her on Twitter at