In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the few sources of comfort I had was my confidence that Utah would handle the situation better than the federal government would.
I had confidence in the Utah Department of Health and other public health professionals. And even though I frequently disagree with the administration of Gov. Gary Herbert on matters of ideology and policy, I felt that the governor and his team would handle the crisis with far greater wisdom and compassion than would President Donald Trump.
For most of April and May, my confidence seemed well-placed. Utah was being careful and staying as safe as possible. But as we now near the end of June, while my esteem for public health officials remains high, I’m afraid I no longer possess anything resembling that level of confidence in our state’s political leaders.
The recent memo distributed by state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn (in whom I still have full confidence) confirms the worries many of us have long had that decisions to reduce restrictions have been entirely for economic reasons, and greatly increases the worry that public health is not given the priority it should in making these decisions.
Sadly, there also seems to be a heavy political element in the decision making process, as far-right ideological voices exploit the crisis and irresponsibly push for ever fewer common sense restrictions in order to gain traction in the upcoming election.
While I sympathize with the fact that this has undeniably put heat on Herbert and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, (who both want Cox to be elected as our next governor) it must be said that taking this kind of heat and making tough decisions is what we elect leaders to do.
One of those tough decisions should be the unpopular choice to make the wearing of masks in businesses and other public places mandatory. Leaving it up to the better angels of individual Utahns’ nature clearly isn’t working. And to insist on the public’s right to choose and ability to be trusted to make responsible choices seems to be, to say the least, a bit hypocritical from a state government that didn’t think Utahns could be trusted to responsibly use their constitutional right to make laws by passing ballot initiatives. Not to mention one that makes a big show every legislative session of imposing tighter restrictions on reproductive choices.
Why is it that now it’s suddenly tyrannical to restrict personal freedoms to save lives, when this is clearly not the position of the majority of Utah politicians all of the time? The same people who so proudly claim to be pro-life seem to have a callous indifference to life when convenience is threatened.
Despite all of the hyperbolic bluster of mask opponents, no dictator in history has ever begun their assault on liberties by mandating the wearing of masks for public safety in a pandemic. We have laws that compel people to wear seat belts in cars. We have laws that compel people to wear clothing in public. And yet people are suddenly behaving as if temporarily compelling people to wear face masks in public in a pandemic is unprecedented and will destroy the constitution.
It’s time for our leaders to have the courage to rise above the political pressure and do what is both right and necessary. If they’re willing to make the hard choices, a balance can be achieved between public health and economic recovery. But if our leaders insist on maintaining their current course, it seems likely that both health and the economy will see harsh consequences.
Paul Gibbs is an independent filmmaker and healthcare advocate who lives in West Valley City with his wife and two sons. His views on health and health care issues can be found on entitledtife.net, and on the podcast “Entitled to Life” on Spotify and other platforms.