Warner Woodworth: Herbert should not be taking coronavirus cues from Trump

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Gary Herbert, right, is joined by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox as they speak at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020, where he ordered a "soft closure" of all Utah K-12 schools for the next two weeks, effective Monday, in the ongoing effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Utah needs coronavirus leadership, but so far, it’s been lacking. Gov. Gary Herbert seems to ignore the medical information the world has had for months. Perhaps he’s taking his lead from the White House, ignoring the great health care institutions we have in Utah, especially the University of Utah Medical School.

Some Utahns, like me, have written to Herbert urging him to take significant action over the coronavirus pandemic as it takes off. Like many thinking residents, I recently wrote his office, as well as Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, asking them to give us real state policies about how our communities should live in this time of death-causing COVID-19.

Here’s what I said:

“Governor Herbert, like many Utahns I’ve been waiting for Lt. Gov. Cox and you to give some leadership in the present crisis. What’s it going to take to get a rational policy for the state of Utah about the Trump Coronavirus pandemic? Please stop acting like the irresponsible delays of states like Texas, Florida, NC, Mississippi, etc. PLEASE start giving us effective and protective leadership! Thanks!”

I submitted it on March 27. Perhaps he didn’t like my plea because I haven’t heard back after seven days. Nor has there been any real new and meaningful initiatives. Of course, I only have a Ph.D. in the social sciences, so I’m not an epidemiologist. Maybe he and Cox are better health experts.

While states like Michigan, New York and New Jersey are led by governors taking real leadership to protect their citizens in this epidemic of the coronavirus, Herbert is doing a milquetoast approach, merely asking people to stay home for the next two weeks to slow down the spread of the pandemic.

His approach has no teeth in it and is totally ineffective, as tons of data and scientific trends show around the world and across the United States. We need a mandatory shelter-in-place order, not a naïve hope that inaction will protect us. Utah’s plea to merely be more safe and wise is meaningless as we see folks living as usual around the state.

The governor says the home “is the safest place you can be to limit your exposure to other people.” That’s true, but it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to leave their homes if there is no clear policy.

Thank goodness for wisdom and genuine leadership from other political leaders like Jenny Wilson, mayor of Salt Lake County, and Erin Mendenhall, mayor of Salt Lake City. We as a state need more government leadership in this area by such people. Otherwise businesses and restaurants stay open and will never provide a decent level of social distancing or proper hygiene. Waiting two more weeks means more and more deaths of Utahns.

Yes, I know the majority of Utahns approve of Donald Trump‘s three-month-long inaction about the coronavirus outbreak across the country (58%). More incredibly to me is the fact that Utah citizens overwhelmingly approve of our state’s response to the pandemic (81%). Laissez-faire is deep in our culture. So it was in Italy and Spain.

The evidence of the past three months shows many Utahns will suffer, as loved ones die and thousands suffer at home and in health care facilities across the state. Equally tragic, the heroes on the front lines of the pandemic, employees such as M.D.s, nurses, police and fire personnel, delivery workers, and others will begin paying huge price. Of the coronavirus crisis, one American nurse wept: “We’re on our knees.”

Warner Woodworth

Warner Woodworth, Ph.D., Provo, is a global social entrepreneur and a professor emeritus in the Department of Management, Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University.