Utah closing public schools to prevent spread of coronavirus

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks at a news conference in the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, March 12, addressing the current state of COVID-19 in Utah. Representatives from the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Board of Education, Utah Jazz, local health authorities and Utah Department of Health were also present. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Gov. Gary Herbert ordered the rescinding of public health orders passed by Utah and Salt Lake counties that legally prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people Thursday evening.

The Utah County Health Department announced Wednesday a public health order that stated that “gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited.” The order was an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and encourage social distancing.

Utah County’s order excluded grocery stores.

On Thursday evening, Salt Lake County’s health department released a similar order, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, adding that a violation of the order “is punishable as a Class B Misdemeanor.” The order was to be in effect for 30 days.

Both orders came after the Utah Department of Health released a Public Health Order on Tuesday ordering all restaurants, bars and taverns to suspend dine-in eating, and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 individuals. The state’s order followed recommendations announced that day by President Donald Trump.

However, Thursday evening, Herbert posted to Twitter, announcing that both counties’ orders would be repealed.

“The State of Utah was not consulted on the new orders issued by the Salt Lake and Utah County Departments of Health. The Utah Department of Health has directed these orders be repealed immediately,” Herbert wrote in the post.

“We call upon all people to act rationally and with the good faith and common sense that has defined our state and her people since its beginning,” he added.

On Thursday evening, the Utah County Attorney’s Office assured Utah County residents that they would not prosecute anyone in violation of the order.

“The Utah County Attorney David Leavitt wants to assure Utah County residents that we are not prosecuting offenders for Class B or Class A misdemeanors as defined in Utah Code 26A-1-123(5)(a)(i) and (ii) as a criminal penalty,” the office wrote on Twitter.

“However, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt encourages the residents of Utah County to recognize the seriousness of this Pandemic and understand that each of us have a personal responsibility to ‘flatten the curve’ as the most promising strategy to control COVID-19/Coronavirus.”

Additionally, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Friday asserting that Sheriff Mike Smith has instructed deputies to not enforce this order through issuing citations.

Although violation of the social distancing order of 10 people or less is considered a class B misdemeanor, Smith believes this is a community problem and has asked residents to help combat the spread of COVID-19 as a community.

“He trusts the citizens of this county will act accordingly with each other’s best interests in mind and stated to reach this goal we each may need to make uncomfortable changes to our normal routines,” the statement said.

Throughout the entire process, Smith is urging residents to use common sense and employ patience.

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