SALT LAKE CITY — After classrooms were closed a month ago with the hope of reopening May 1, Gov. Gary Herbert extended the closure through the rest of the school year. The announcement came Tuesday afternoon, as state officials discouraged false hope in the continued decrease of new COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Herbert said the decision to keep schools closed was difficult to make and came after he and education officials weighed all of the possibilities. They agreed that in order to get the state back on its feet socially and economically, schools needed to remain closed.
“So, in order to continue the slow of the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Herbert said, “I believe and we believe that based on our view of the data we have today and the best practices we have in place, we need to extend the soft-closure of our public schools through the remainder of the school year.”
Tuesday’s announcement came as the Utah Department of Health announced 49 new cases of the virus within the last 24 hours and one death, a middle aged individual from Utah County. The report showed 2,412 total cases have been confirmed within the state. Those cases have resulted in 213 hospitalizations and 46,476 people tested.
Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson explained that local school districts and charters will be instructed to continue with their plans to address continued instruction, tutoring, child nutrition and paying employees. She admitted the decision is especially difficult for seniors.
“While we know from our students and parents that they are missing out on possible rituals that they have really been looking forward to at the end of the year,” Dickson said, “I support the governor in making this decision based on the safety, not only of our students but also our citizens. Schools and the economy have to go hand in hand and while we want our students to be safe, we want our citizens to be safe as well. And we want to get back to school.”
Utah has continued to see a decrease in the new virus cases during the past seven days after 119 new cases were reported April 6. The largest number of cases counted in one day was 189. The decrease could also be related to a steady decline in the number of tests completed.
Gov. Herbert said the number of new cases showed that his directive to Stay Safe Stay Home is working. He stopped short though of making any predictions for when those restrictions will be relaxed.
“I am confident that over the next few weeks and few months,” Gov. Herbert said, “we will get back into recovery and hopefully by the end of the summer, we’re in full-blown recovery. But recovery will look a little different. I think there is going to be a need for places that we frequent to do and go the extra mile to make sure that we feel safe. If we go back to restaurants, bowling alleys, manufacturing, retail outlets, we need to make sure that we feel safe or the people won’t show up.”
Details could be released in the upcoming days about plans to move from the urgency phase to the stabilization phase. Face masks and social distancing will continue to be recommended until a vaccine for the virus is found.
Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn continued to stress the need for citizens to be tested for COVID-19. She repeated that the list of possible symptoms had been increased to include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains, decrease sense of taste or smell, or a sore throat.
“The concerning part right now for us in public health is that our testing rate has decreased as well as our case rate,” said Dunn, “but our cases are still 5 percent of our total. So we are not seeing a decrease in the positives. If we were seeing a decrease in the positives, I think I would have more confidence. So we are really pushing to get more people tested so that we can have a better idea of the true incidents or the burden of the disease out in the state, before we start making any policy recommendations.”
Tuesday’s press conference was held as the Bear River Health Department announced no new cases of the virus in Cache County, keeping the total number of cases in Northern Utah to 49. There are 36 cases in Cache County, 13 cases in Box Elder County and none reported in Rich County.