As coronavirus spreads, Utah governor restricts gatherings of more than 100 people

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City's St. Patrick's Day Parade, scheduled for Saturday, May 14, 2020, has been postponed — one of many events delayed or canceled because of concerns about the coronavirus. This photo is from the 2019 parade.

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City governments, arts groups and entertainment venues are responding quickly to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s call Thursday to limit mass gatherings statewide to 100 people in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“Today we stopped making decisions based on the hope that things will get better,” Herbert said in announcing the voluntary guideline.

Senior centers, arts venues, the Utah State Prison and others are closing access or canceling events — adding to a snowball of announcements that began with the NBA suspending its season this week, after the Utah Jazz’ Rudy Gobert tested presumptively positive for coronavirus. Colleges statewide are ending sporting events. All universities are postponing lectures and symposiums. And conferences, concerts and festivals have been put on hold.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Gary Herbert speaks at a news conference in the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, March 12, 2020 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.

Herbert on Thursday called the coronavirus “a significant pandemic storm” and said while the state has not confirmed any community spread of the virus, he expects it will happen.

“We are not sitting on the sidelines,” he noted. “We take this seriously.”

In addition to limiting mass gatherings of healthy people, Herbert said people over age 60 or those with compromised health should avoid any gathering of more than 20 people. Local health departments, he added, should restrict access to long-term care centers. And he encouraged companies to let their employees work remotely from home — though businesses with more than 100 employees are not being asked to close their doors.

And Utah lawmakers announced an emergency funding package aimed at helping the elder and people with low incomes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They plan to spend $24 million to assist health departments and expand Meals on Wheels and home health care.

What followed the governor’s recommendation was an onslaught of shutterings statewide.

After the NBA’s announcement, Major League Soccer (where Real Salt Lake plays) and the Utah Grizzlies’ league, ECHL, both suspended their seasons. The Pac-12 canceled all tournaments, including the women’s gymnastics championship set for March 21 at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

The Utah State Prison has suspended all visitation and volunteer services at their Draper and Gunnison facilities for at least two weeks. Officials there say they’ve been encouraging those who are incarcerated to use telephones and mail instead.

Most of the county jails will be less affected because they have visitation by video calls and not in person. Utah County Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Cannon said his county’s jail is doing more thorough medical screenings when people enter, adding that no one has shown symptoms of COVID-19 yet. Weber County hasn’t made any changes.

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office has suspended all volunteer efforts, “at-will programs” and jail tours for the next month, and said staff will continue to monitor inmates.

[Read more: Utah’s colleges and universities closing classes, moving to online courses]

Salt Lake City announced Thursday that it will postpone all justice court jury trials that were scheduled through April 10. All jail and prison transports were canceled, and those hearings will be rescheduled as video conferences. Officials asked that anyone with flu-like symptoms or who is at risk to contact their attorney and ask for their case to be delayed.

The Utah courts announced an order from Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant on Thursday night, outlining its COVID-19 response plan and saying it had created a team that will coordinate and enact the plan.

The order gives presiding judges the ability to postpone trials and hearings and cancel meetings and to allow for remote communications when a case must move forward to “preserve constitutional rights.”

It also says judges can order “courthouse hygiene measures,” including restricting public access to courthouses and courtrooms.

“The health and safety of those who come into our courthouses and courtrooms seeking justice is a deep concern for me, our court staff, and our judges. We are also deeply concerned about the safety of our employees,” Durrant said in a statement. “At the same time, the mission-critical work of the courts must continue."

The release also said the courts were canceling all nonessential group gatherings.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday, too, that it would suspend public gatherings of church members “until further notice.”

In politics, Utah’s Republicans are canceling the planned March 24 caucus meetings where delegates are selected, and they also plan on holding a primarily online convention instead of the planned April 25 in-person convention, which generally attracts some 4,000 delegates.

The state Democratic Party is not mandating the cancellation of March 24 caucus meetings but it is strongly recommending that county parties find alternatives to mass in-person gatherings. It’s calling off its planned April 25 convention, but will release details on an alternative later. And the United Utah Party will hold online caucuses March 24 and a virtual convention on April 18.

Herbert issued an executive order Thursday evening allowing people to file “declarations of candidacy through a designated representative,” essentially suspending the rule that says potential candidates must file in person.

"This declaration simply creates a pathway for individuals to participate in the political process, even if they are experiencing symptoms and need to stay home,” Herbert said in a statement.

The cities of Moab, Draper and Millcreek declared states of local emergency Thursday. The move allows the cities to access state and federal funding related to the virus. That follows Salt Lake City, which did so on Wednesday.

All Salt Lake County senior centers will be closed indefinitely, too, starting Friday, the county’s Department of Aging and Adult Services announced Thursday. Arrangements are in the works to provide meals to those who rely on the center’s food services. The Provo City Senior Center also will close, the city of Provo announced.

American Fork is closing the city’s fitness center, postponing outdoor recreation programs, canceling activities and reservations at the senior center (though meals will still be served to qualified seniors), canceling programs at the library, as well as tours of the police and fire stations.

And the Huntsman Cancer Institute said that patients will only be allowed one guest at a time.

City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City tweeted Thursday that it would close for the day. “We learned a shopper, confirmed to have COVID-19, was in the center on [Tuesday,] March 10,” the tweet said. The shopping center will reopen at 10 a.m. Friday.

Starting Friday and until further notice, Salt Lake County is closing all recreation centers, libraries, the equestrian center, the Discovery Gateway children’s museum and the Clark Planetarium. The county also will close the four arts venues it manages: Abravanel Hall, the Capitol Theatre, the Eccles Theater and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Salt Lake City Public Library has canceled all events, programs and outreach from Friday through Sunday, April 19 — and is canceling all room reservations through April 19. Patrons can still go in to check out books and other materials, though library officials are encouraging people to use the library system’s online resources where possible.

Provo announced it would suspend all programs for senior adults and kids 6 and under at the Provo Recreation Center, The Peaks Ice Arena and the Covey Center for the Arts. All city-sponsored performances at the Covey Center and group activities at the Provo Library at Academy Square also are canceled.

The Division of Wildlife Resources also canceled its swan viewing, mountain goat viewing and turkey hunting events for this month. And it has postponed fishing seminars.

The Utah Olympic Oval said it canceled all sport and public programs from March 16 to 29.

Rocky Mountain Power announced that it wouldn’t disconnect power for people who don’t pay their electricity bill to help support Utah’s state of emergency, specifically the number of people working from home because of the coronavirus.

“With many in our communities potentially needing to self-isolate or work from home, the company understands the importance of uninterrupted electric service,” it said in a statement.

[Read more: The Tribune has opened access to our coronavirus coverage to all readers]

Cultural events that have been canceled or postponed:

• Salt Lake County-managed arts venues — Abravanel Hall, Capitol Theatre, Eccles Theater and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center — will be closed through March 31. Refunds for canceled shows, like Monday night’s Wilco concert at Eccles, are still being worked out, a county spokeswoman said. People who had tickets for the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” for Thursday, Friday or Saturday will have their money refunded automatically.

• Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Salt Lake City has been postponed, the Hibernian Society of Utah announced on its website Thursday. A new date has not been announced.

• The 15th annual Get Lucky Festival, a two-day electronic dance music event that was expected to draw around 10,000 fans to Saltair this Friday and Saturday at Saltair, has been canceled, organizers announced on Instagram.

• The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will be closed, starting Friday through March 27.

• The Natural History Museum of Utah will shut its doors for two weeks.

• The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art will be closed through March 27, and will postpone all public programming through April 17.

Salt Lake Film Society, the nonprofit that runs the Broadway Centre Cinemas and Tower Theatre, announced Thursday it would not sell more than 100 tickets during any block of time. “In reality, the vast majority of our screenings each week naturally fall within this range,” Tori Baker, president and CEO of SLFS, said in a statement.

The Megaplex Theatres chain, which has 15 locations in Utah, will stay open. The theaters will limit ticket sales to 75 people per auditorium per show. The company will also refund pre-purchased tickets to films — such as Disney’s “Mulan” — that have changed their release date in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

• The Tumbleweeds Film Festival for kids, put on by the Utah Film Center at the City Library’s main branch, is canceling all screenings and workshops, starting with Thursday night’s scheduled showing of “Binti” and through the weekend. Organizers hope to reschedule the festival’s second weekend later in the year. The Utah Film Center also is canceling all other programming scheduled through April 19; most of its films screen at the City Library.

• Utah Symphony | Utah Opera canceled all performances though the end of the month. That includes Utah Opera’s performances of “The Barber of Seville” on March 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22, and the Utah Symphony’s concerts on March 17, 19, 21, 26, 27 and 28.

• Pioneer Theatre Company has canceled the world premiere of Ellen Simon’s play “Ass,” which was scheduled to run March 27-April 11. Salt Lake Acting Company will delay the planned run of “Four Women Talking About the Man Under the Sheet” — scheduled to run through March 22 — until May or July, depending on the actors’ availability.

Hale Center Theatre in Sandy will go dark for two weeks beginning Monday. Performances of “Strictly Ballroom: The Musical” and “Bright Star” are scheduled to resume on March 31; the missed performances are being rescheduled.

Plan-B Theatre will postpone the March 26 premiere of Jennifer Nii’s new play, “The Audacity.” A new opening date will be announced.

• The Zac Brown Band, a country/rock group, announced online it would reschedule its spring tour, including its show on Thursday, March 26, at the Maverik Center, for later in the year. The arena has not announced how it will handle Monday’s scheduled concert by the progressive-metal band Tool.

• The Maverik Center announced Friday that Cirque du Soleil’s touring show “Bazzar,” which had been set for May 24 to July 5 in a big-top tent in the arena’s parking lot, has been canceled.

• All shows at The State Room and The Commonwealth Room for the month of March have been postponed, venue managers wrote on their website.

The King’s English bookshop is offering a drive-by pickup service, where customers can order books over the phone, pay with a credit card, and pick up their purchases without leaving their cars. The store also is canceling all author events for the near future.

The League of Utah Writers announced it would delay its spring conference, originally set for April 18, tentatively to May 23.

Park City Institute has canceled its Saints and Sinners Ball on Saturday at St. Regis Deer Valley, and the March 21 concert by T Bone Burnett at the Eccles Center Theatre. The institute plans to reschedule both events.

• In Park City, the Egyptian Theatre has canceled this weekend’s concerts of the band Moe., as well as the upcoming production of the musical “Newsies.”

— Tribune reporters Scott D. Pierce, Jessica Miller, Paighten Harkins and Dan Harrie also contributed to this article.