Robert Gehrke: A peek inside Utah’s response to the coronavirus (sort of)

Robert Gehrke

As new cases of the coronavirus spiked in recent weeks, Utah’s response to the pandemic has come under fire — from the push to reopen schools to Gov. Gary Herbert’s reluctance to require masks in hotspots.

Recently, a ProPublica piece focused on the push by business leaders to ease economic restrictions, despite cautions from medical experts to go slow.

So what’s it like to be in the place where these high-stakes decisions are being made? Well, it’s probably nothing like the private meeting transcript that follows, but it could be. I mean, who knows?

Herbert: Thank you all for being here. I have a very busy schedule so I want to move quickly. We’ll begin with a status report from state epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn?

Dunn: In the last two weeks we’ve had more than 8,800 cases, nearly 60 people have died and the virus seems to be spreading across most of the state.

Herbert: So I challenged Utah to get to an average of 500 cases a day by the end of the month. Are we on course for that?

Dunn: It doesn’t look good, sir.

Herbert: We should issue a press release telling Utahns that they’ve let me down and I’m very disappointed with them. Maybe include a frowny face. Aside from that, I’m out of ideas.

Dunn: Well, sir. Since Salt Lake County started requiring masks, we’ve seen cases dropping. Their rate of increase is practically a third of what it was. It looks like it’s working.

Herbert: Thank you, Angela. I’ve asked this random Utah County resident to give us another perspective.

Utah County resident: God gave us this wonderful breathing machine. Masks are a conspiracy perpetrated by the government to suffocate that machine and enslave us until Bill Gates comes up with a so-called vaccine that he can use to control our minds and sell us into sex trafficking. It’s genocide! Don’t take away our freedom!

Herbert: Senate President Stuart Adams, do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Adams: I think our friend from Utah County covered it. I’d just add that we really call the shots and if you try to require masks the Legislature will destroy you.

Herbert: OK. So we’re not going to require masks. Does anyone have any other ideas? Tech bro?

Tech bro: Yo. Thanks, guv. Here’s our idea, man. It’s like a mask, only it’s an app on your phone. And we only need like $7 million to get it to a beta test.

Dunn: That could never possibly work.

Tech Bro: What about $6 million?

Adams: Sounds good to me.

Herbert: OK. Make it happen. Anything else before we leave the mask issue?

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox: Donovan Mitchell just tweeted a picture of him wearing a mask.

Herbert: Great information. Next item of business, an update from the COVID-19 task force, Spencer?

Cox: Still haven’t met.

Herbert: Really?

Cox: No, sir. Not since June 9. I was really busy with this election. Good news, though. Twitter says I won.

Herbert: That’s great news. We were all pulling for you. Moving on, a report from our Goldratt business consultants on their recommendations for our new risk scale.

Goldratt: Thank you, governor. Concerns were raised that the red-orange-yellow risk scale is sending the wrong message to people, essentially it is saying there’s practically no risk when, in fact, the risk is very, very high. So we’ve come up with this new system. Slides please …

As you can see it starts here at this shade of mauve. That means you have COVID. It’s the bad one. Next phase is teal, that means Kanye has said something about the virus. Also not great. Then there is this, you might recognize the Black Eyed Peas, which means tonight’s gonna be a good night.

Tech Bro: Drink it up.

Goldratt: Drank. And down here, at the lowest level, we have this lovely sponge cake, which is a reference to the very popular meme on social media — everything is cake. Our goal is to get to cake.

Dunn: None of that makes any sense. It’s actually worse than what we had before.

Herbert: I love it! You guys really hit a home run. We’re fortunate now to have Vice President Mike Pence joining us via Zoom to talk about reopening schools. Thank you for being here Mr. Vice President.


Dunn: You’re on mute Mr. Vice President. Click the little microphone.

Pence: … to emphasize that you shouldn’t consider this stuff the CDC is putting out as actual requirements. They’re not even really guidelines. More just some ideas you might want to think about if you want to open schools and keep students and teachers safe. But you’re free to ignore them if it’s expensive or inconvenient or, like me, you generally dislike science.

Adams: Ugh! Science is the worst.

Herbert: OK. So we’ll proceed with the plans — sorry, maybe “plan” is too strong a word — dream of reopening schools. And can someone see to ordering a crate of those “Get well soon, Teacher” cards we discussed last time? Thanks. Does anyone have anything else we need to discuss?

Cox: Governor, this just came in via Twitter.

Herbert: Great Scott!

Dunn: Oh no. Is there another outbreak?

Herbert: No. One Direction might be getting back together!

[Collective squeals]