Trent Staggs: Utah’s response to COVID-19 is not sufficient

Many are focusing the COVID-19 discussion on either its economic or health impacts. In reality, addressing both of these issues is critical to a successful, humane response, providing the best possible treatment for our friends and neighbors.

We have seen a variety of government responses throughout the world. Some have successfully mitigated the impacts of COVID-19 and “flattened” the infection curve while also “flattening” the economic dip. Others have failed to handle the situation entirely.

South Korea’s response has become the global standard. Unfortunately, it is largely the opposite of the United States’ and Utah’s response. South Korea invested heavily in the development of coronavirus tests upfront and launched a massive effort to test their citizens. Those who test positive are treated immediately. Those who test negative go on with their lives, empowering fellow citizens and businesses alike to implement key safety precautions. This has resulted in minimal panic and impact on their economy. South Koreans are faring much better because of a well-prepared community response that focused on testing and treatment.

Conversely, the U.S. response has been to tell people to only get tested if they are experiencing symptoms. In Utah, we’ve enacted strict criteria that one must meet before they can be tested, even if they want to be, due to a scarcity of available tests. These measures were loosened just recently but there is still much work to be done. Citizens should be encouraged to get tested, not stay away.

When combating other diseases, we encourage everyone to get tested and tested frequently. Imagine if our response to the AIDS epidemic was, “Only get tested if you don’t feel well, otherwise just be as safe as you can,” the infection rates would be much higher. Yet that is exactly what we are telling our own citizens to do in the wake of what may be the largest pandemic since 1918.

An equally inappropriate response would be to force everyone to stay in their home under threat of prosecution. This would largely inspire panic, represent a massive curtailment of civil liberties, and wreak unnecessary havoc on the economy. Such draconian measures may make politicians feel like they “did something” but would do more harm than good. People have enough to worry about in a time of crisis. The state should not empower law enforcement to harass them for being outside and our brave police officers should not be put in that difficult situation.

Encouraging people to stay home is important but not enough, and government enforced stay-at-home measures are not acceptable. We simply must provide the tests and medical equipment necessary to combat the virus. So far, we have failed to do so and this is the primary cause of our inability to weather this storm appropriately.

State leaders must immediately allocate emergency funds to develop tests for as many Utah citizens as possible, increase the amount of drive through testing centers, encourage everyone to get tested, and acquire the needed medical equipment to treat those who test positive for coronavirus.

A global pandemic is no time for hysteria or rash actions. It’s a time for cool, rational response based on data and effective execution. Without the data gathered from widespread testing, we are fighting blind.

As community leaders we must show the public that we can handle this, that we are prepared. Leaders build trust, show compassion, and quickly introduce stability. Having an effective plan that produces results achieves all three. I am calling on state and local leaders to prioritize testing for all and heavily invest in developing the medical equipment needed to treat those who test positive.

This is how we flatten the curve, get people working again and save lives.

Trent Staggs

Trent Staggs is the mayor of Riverton.