Brian K. Zehnder: In this election, every issue is a health issue

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Health care workers perform COVID-19 testing at Intermountain Park City Hospital on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

Imagine no COVID-19. Welcoming a friend with a hug. Yelling in the arena, donning no face mask.

This “normal” feels a long way away. But we can get back, with the right people. Who are they? People who uniquely understand health care.

Normal has changed. Every issue is a health issue.

According to a survey by the Utah Foundation, the top five voter concerns are health care, taxes and spending, K-12 education, jobs and the economy, and air quality.

All issues involve health. Take care of our health, and everything else recovers. Here’s how:

Our economy is a health issue. Unemployed people have more depression and suicide. They see their doctor more often and take more medicine. How about more employers provide for on-site day care and counseling?

COVID-19 jolted Utah’s economy. We saw 150,000 Utahns out of work or who lost their jobs forever. Our company added telehealth and drive-by COVID-19 testing. We hired more and now serve better.

Our education is a health issue. Let’s remove politics. Should students learn online or on-site? Parents are the experts for raising their kids. What do they need? Science, data and facts. Two critical factors include trends in the average daily number of new cases per 100,000, and the percentage of positive tests. Some districts have low numbers; children are safe in school. Other districts have higher numbers; these children might be better taught online. Data drives behavior. Teachers know it. So do we.

In my back-to-school physicals, during counseling we found many children want to be in school. As their family doc, I find that parents trust me. Kids do, too. Lawmakers, like doctors, need to be good listeners.

Our environment is a health issue. Poor air quality causes health effects such as eye and lung irritation. Asthma worsens when fine particulate matter levels are high. Seeing patients tied to oxygen tubing motivates me to push for change. We need to incentivize things like solar power and electric vehicles.

COVID-19 is clearly a health issue. The disease spreads from person to person. It is worse than the flu. It kills quicker. Treatment is limited. We are treading water trying to limit spread until a vaccine comes to the rescue. But will it? Political pundits banter.

Finger-pointing does little to solve a pandemic. Our leaders made some wise decisions, some unwise. Rather than look back, we focus on learning and prepare for the next pandemic. Yes, there will be another.

I agree with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox: Let’s bring our supply chains home. When the next crisis occurs, we purchase and mobilize resources. Why do we want to rely on China during the next wave?

Utah knows the importance of storehouses. Let’s build one to store critical supplies, such as masks and gowns, so our front-line workers can serve without fear. Elected leaders who fail to plan for “COVID-20” will cause us all to suffer.

What do you need in a medical pandemic? Doctors. Let’s form the next pandemic task force with medical experts. A doctor’s advice for a sore throat gets you back to work. In the same way, elected doctors will get Utah back to normal healthier and sooner.

This fall, voters decide who leads us to recovery. We have a responsibility to:

Elect candidates who know what it takes to keep a business thriving in both good times and bad.

Elect candidates who see what parents see, who listen, and who give sound advice based on the best science.

Elect candidates who give more than lip service. Do they use solar panels, electric vehicles and recycle?

Finally, elect candidates who know racial inequality and injustice. Elect candidates who not only sympathize, but also empathize as part of their character.

The sooner we elect those who are qualified, experienced and knowledgeable, the sooner our students thrive and our economy blossoms.

And the sooner we can all give high-fives again at the game.

Brian Zehnder

Brian Zehnder, M.D., is a family physician, former Utah state senator and current medical director of the Exodus Healthcare Network in Magna.

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