Jenny Wilson: Staggs' COVID strategy is too dangerous for Salt Lake County

A woman receives a coronavirus test from Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth outside the Salt Lake County Health Department Friday, June 12, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Utah and Oregon put any further reopenings of their economies on hold amid a spike in coronavirus cases, but there was no turning back Friday, June 12, 2020, in such states as Texas, California, Arkansas and Arizona despite flashing warning signs there, too. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The scope and complexity of the challenge presented to our community and the Salt Lake County Health Department when COVID-19 arrived here was unimaginable. Nonetheless, my team continues to deliver results and we are committed, prepared, and skilled in addressing the challenges presented by this worldwide pandemic.

That’s why the opinion piece published this week by my opponent, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, the Republican nominee for county mayor, demands a response.

It is dangerous, misguided and ignores widespread evidence for managing the pandemic.

Staggs insists that Salt Lake County should be conducting “universal and repeat testing for every resident.” However, epidemiologists have warned us since the beginning that testing will never be enough to keep us safe, but the debunked theory endures among anti-maskers like President Donald Trump, who despite being tested every day, still contracted the virus.

Staggs' plan is as dangerous as it is impractical.

There are just under 1.2 million county residents and for the repeat testing Staggs proposes, they would need to be tested at least twice a week. The international supply chain would have to be able to sell us 2.4 million tests a week, which it can’t, and there would have to be sufficient local lab capacity to process 2.4 million tests a week, which there isn’t.

The tests, themselves, are also far from perfect.

It was also only last month that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made available an alternative test to the invasive nasopharyngeal swab. If Staggs had been the county mayor this past spring, would he have required 1.2 million residents to get their brain scraped twice a week all summer as a preventive measure?

The less-invasive testing options now on the market are less reliable. The rapid tests used by the White House, for example, are just 80% effective. The false assumption of safety enjoyed by White House staff and visitors led to the White House becoming a hot spot and the site of a superspreading event.

These haven’t been the easiest six months, but I never shied away from making the tough choices to keep our county safe. I ignored the politics, listened to the epidemiologists, studied the data, and respected the science.

The mask requirement I put in place in May — which Staggs vocally opposed at the time and which, until last week, he told voters he would not continue if elected — led to a decline in cases in Salt Lake County exactly two weeks after it took effect.

My extraordinary team of committed professionals at the county built a $40 million grant program to help struggling small businesses. We sent $11.4 million to local schools to help kids and teachers be as safe as possible. We boosted resources for victims of domestic violence and for a program that paid local restaurants to cook healthy meals for families in need.

I am in awe of the Salt Lake County employees who have risked their own well-being to help this community get through this crisis. When Staggs writes off their service and simply declares the county as “inept at testing,” he not only demonstrates his ignorance about managing the public’s health, but also insults the public service of every one of those employees.

These are serious times that demand serious leadership. I’m proud of the work I’ve done for this county during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I would implore residents not to take a chance on Staggs' uninformed, misguided, and dangerous strategy.

Jenny Wilson

Jenny Wilson is the mayor of Salt Lake County.