Derek Miller: Utahns deserve a panorama on pandemic data

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Euro Treasures Antiques places "we give up, store closing," signs in downtown Salt Lake City as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on businesses on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

Data drives decisions. Bad data leads to bad decisions. Incomplete data, incomplete decisions. Unbalanced data, unbalanced decisions.

Decisions made at a local, national and even global level regarding the coronavirus are some of the most important decisions of our lifetimes. Yet, it often seems that only a keyhole view of the pandemic panorama receives daily attention.

Each day for the past six months, Utahns have received the latest number of daily infections, but case counts are only one piece of the full picture when it comes to understanding the pandemic and the resulting health and economic impacts to individuals and families.

Of course, we care about those infected and lives lost to the virus. We also care about livelihoods affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic. Both are part of the big picture, and both health and economic data should be provided to the public as we make informed decisions about our own behavior and hold elected leaders accountable for their actions.

On the health side, data needs to incorporate more than case counts and fatality rates. Mental and behavioral health data needs to be included, especially as the stress and anxiety of the ongoing pandemic mount. These figures are not being shared or discussed enough.

On the economic side, we must realize the effects of the pandemic are damaging not just to businesses but also to individuals and families. When we talk about the economy, we are talking about a system that supports livelihoods and lives. When we talk about jobs, we are talking about people. When the economy is suffering, real people are suffering. When jobs are lost, real people are hurt. The public deserves a daily, weekly, monthly view of these impacts just as they receive daily case counts.

One example of how this transparency and accountability can benefit the overall effort, is looking to the fall and winter and the high likelihood of increased case counts. The cooler weather will cause people to spend more time indoors. The return to school and beginning of college classes will bring people closer together.

The good news is we know more about the virus now than we did in the spring. For example, we know that we can continue to safely engage in the economy by protecting vulnerable populations and following three simple rules: enhanced hygiene always, social distancing when it’s possible and masks when it’s not. So when case counts rise, we can make smart and surgical adjustments based on a complete view of the data and avoid irresponsible comments and disastrous decisions about “shutting down the economy” and the impacts that would have on lives and livelihoods.

Like most things in life, dealing with the pandemic is about managing risk and finding the right balance. In this effort, data should guide us but not control us, and we can only accomplish this by expanding the public’s view, publicizing collective efforts, and tracking Utah’s recovery.

In this way Utahns can once again show the rest of America what it means for pioneers to overcome a challenge and lead a comeback.

Derek Miller

Derek Miller is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance and chair of the Utah Economic Response Task Force.

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