As coronavirus cases continue to spike across Utah, the Cache County Council called on its residents Sunday to observe a “Day of Prayer” to “humbly petition Almighty God for his tender mercies” and for deliverance of “healing, comfort [and] wisdom” to the county and across the nation.
Councilwoman Gina Worthen, who sponsored the interfaith resolution, said she hoped it would bring the community together during a time marked for many by sickness, death, anxiety, depression and divisiveness over the best way to respond to the public health crisis.
“Since a lot of us are spiritual and religious in this valley of all different faiths, I was hopeful that people could focus their energy on the positive and appeal to God for help,” she said Monday. “And how that help is going to come, I don’t know. God works in mysterious ways. But I’m a firm believer in prayer. I believe God governs in the affairs of men, and I believe that it will help.”
Coming on the heels of an alarming rise in cases in Cache County after an outbreak at a meatpacking plant last month and efforts to reduce public health precautions in the county, some residents say that prayer isn’t enough to control the spread of the pandemic.
“I was raised very religious and I was always told God helps those who help themselves,” said Marissa Kearns Zander, a 26-year-old Logan resident who expressed frustration with the Day of Prayer on Facebook over the weekend. “They’re not taking any measures to actually help the people of the county. They’re just hoping.”
Zander and others who responded to the county’s Facebook post encouraging prayers said they want to see action — such as enactment of a countywide mask mandate, which would require the approval of the governor, and better enforcement of social distancing guidelines.
Several Cache County residents also wrote to The Herald Journal over the weekend to express their opposition to the resolution and call for similar efforts.
“Despite the Cache County Council declaring last Sunday a day of prayer, the weekend broke the record for weekend COVID cases,” Logan resident Charlie Huenemann wrote in one. “I wonder whether the Almighty is trying to teach us a lesson: Maybe we should start behaving responsibly, taking necessary precautions and wearing masks, and see how that works out.”
Worthen countered that the county has responded appropriately to the coronavirus, which hasn’t hit the area as hard as other parts of Utah. She said she sees no need for a mask mandate like those currently in place in Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties along with Springdale in southern Utah.
“I believe, and most of the council believes, in personal responsibility,” she said. “People need to be responsible, but people need to make choices, too. Government can’t fix everything.”
As of Monday afternoon, the northern Utah county of more than 128,000 people has reported 1,654 positive diagnoses, 1,329 of which are considered recovered, meaning a person has survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed. Five people are currently hospitalized there for the illness; three have died from it.
Cache County — which saw a spike in cases last month amid an outbreak at a Hyrum meatpacking plant — remains in the “yellow” phase of coronavirus restrictions — despite efforts to move to the “green” or “new normal” risk phase. Most Utah counties are at the “yellow” restriction level while Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Kane, Millard, Piute, Utah and Wayne counties have moved to “green.” Salt Lake City residents and visitors are under the tightest restrictions in the “orange” level.
While some Cache residents who raised concerns about the Day of Prayer have criticized the county’s response to the coronavirus, others see the resolution as an inappropriate show of religious beliefs by a governmental body, reflecting a lack of separation between church and state.
Worthen said she understands that not everyone has the same religious beliefs and noted that she’d invited those who were nonreligious to send forth “positive vibes” and thoughts if they weren’t comfortable with prayer.
“Those that maybe are atheistic or don’t specifically believe in God or any higher power, they’re just one aspect of my community,” she said. “My community is made up of many people of different faiths, spiritual people, so I do feel it reflects on the makeup of the community.”
The language of the resolution also harks back to a “deeply rooted” heritage of prayer, using quotes from Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
A National Day of Prayer has been held annually in early May since 1952 under presidents of both parities.
The Cache County Council approved the resolution with a unanimous vote at its meeting last week with the support of city mayors and council members from across the county and the Cache Community Connections interfaith group.
Smithfield Mayor Jeff Barnes said he participated in the Day of Prayer and thought it was a “wise thing” to encourage.
“You have a good feeling come across your conscience, you know, praying and hoping for something and I mean, I felt good about it,” he said. “I hope others did.”
Amid worries about hospitals being overcrowded, higher-than-normal rates of suicide and domestic violence calls in the county and the economic fallout of COVID-19, Worthen said she hopes the Day of Prayer helped the community focus and remember that the “things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.”
Sometimes “things are beyond what any person can do,” she added. “What’s wrong with appealing to a higher power for help?”