Politicization of COVID-19 led to bad decisions during the pandemic, Cox says on CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’

“We desperately need more” Utahns to get vaccinated, the governor said.

(CBS) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during an episode of "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday morning.

COVID-19. Vaccines. Politicization of the pandemic. Drought.

These were the main points Gov. Spencer Cox tackled while on the CBS show “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning.

Host Ed O’Keefe was not shy about asking loaded questions, presumably in an effort to get substantial answers from the Utah governor. But Cox didn’t shy away.

When it came to the topic of COVID-19, Cox quickly acknowledged that cases of the Delta variant as well as hospitalizations are rising in the state. The highly contagious variant has also led to a push to get more people vaccinated.

The Republican governor said Utah’s population is the youngest in the nation (median age of 30.7 years), which means there is a large portion of people who are unable to get vaccinated. However, 89% of those over 65 are vaccinated.

“We feel really good about that, and our death rates have come down because of that, but we desperately need more,” Cox said.

However, just because a large part of the state population is young doesn’t mean the state isn’t trying to reach the young adult and teenage demographics. Cox describes the state’s “very robust vaccination network,” which includes mobile vaccine clinics as well as vaccine clinics at and near schools.

“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine,” Cox said.

The Utah Legislature has prevented Cox from offering cash incentives to get more people vaccinated. He said Sunday that he’d like to have “all options on the table,” but he added that not dying is enough incentive for people to seek out a vaccine.

O’Keefe then brought up some numbers to show the bipartisan divide on vaccinations. The overwhelming majority of Democrats say they’ve been vaccinated, while only 45% of Republicans have been vaccinated and 38% of Republicans say they won’t get the vaccine, according to O’Keefe.

“It’s troubling,” Cox said in reply.

The Utah governor said it’s unfortunate that politics is becoming “religion, sports and entertainment” in the country. He believes making every situation into a political one is a “huge mistake” and has caused bad decisions to be made during the pandemic.

Cox went on to say that Republicans in Utah have a better vaccination rate than the numbers O’Keefe shared, but he didn’t give any specifics.

“We’ll continue to work with everyone in our state to get them vaccinated,” Cox said.

Next on the docket was the current state of drought Utah is in.

O’Keefe brought up a graph with photos of Utah one year apart. This time last year, only a small portion of the state was considered to be in extreme drought. Now, 98% of Utah is in extreme drought, with 65% in exceptional drought.

So, how does Cox expect to get the state out of the current conditions?

First, people need to conserve water better, Cox said.

The sixth-generation alfalfa farmer said his family’s farm is down to 70% of its water consumption.

But then it also comes down to storing more water. Utah hasn’t been that great at doing so, but Cox mentioned that there is a bipartisan push to get that to happen and start storing water, possibly, below and above ground.

“We are also the fastest growing state in the nation, so we have to be prepared for generations to come,” Cox said.

When asked how detrimental it is to be part of a political party that includes many who don’t believe in climate change, Cox said they’re working to help people understand its impacts.

But he admitted that’s a long-term solution, and he listed examples of how Utah is working to combat climate change now by cutting back on emissions and working on electric car infrastructures.

At the end, Cox maintained that Utah is trying to take every step possible to combat the pandemic and the current drought, but acknowledged there is still work to be done.

“Great things are happening there, but we also have to take the short-term impacts and take them very seriously, which President Biden did this week, talking about wildfires in the West,” Cox said.