George Pyle: No wonder we don’t follow doctors' orders

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and medical caregivers from the University of Utah Hospital, talk about the intensity of care given to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and the severity of Utah’s ICU bed capacity, on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

Maybe it is not so surprising that so many Americans, so many Utahns, are refusing to follow the instructions and advice of their government officials during this unending pandemic. A little mistrust of people who hold power is healthy.

Now, though, we live in an atmosphere where a great many people totally mistrust the president of the United States, or far too many people completely trust the president.

The result is a state and a nation populated by far too many people who view a mask-wearing order as an intolerable encroachment of their personal liberties. When that refusal is, in fact, a deliberate offense against the personal liberties of everyone else.

But it’s not just government being ignored. It’s doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, the people who really know this stuff. We’ve been told over and over that our health care system is being strained to the breaking point. We aren’t only running out of intensive care unit beds, which can be supplemented. We are dangerously short of trained doctors, nurses and other personnel, who simply cannot be ramped up at short notice.

Doctors and nurses are pleading with us to wear masks, to distance and to stay home. Some of them are breaking down in tears. Some have taken their own lives.

And still we have people who protest, threaten and evict people from the Lehi Farmers Market and ban them from their small-town diners because they not only don’t want to wear masks themselves, but also take grievous offense at the sight of someone else wearing one.

One reason for this must be the fact that, unlike other developed nations, the United States does not really have a health care service. We have a health care industry. A service exists to help others. An industry exists to help itself. Which one earns the most trust?

While the success is far from universal, it is clear that the nations that have done the best job of beating down the spread of COVID-19 see health care as a public service — like education or police departments — and not a business.

Nobody who expects to be reelected in those lands would ever suggest that health care is anything other than a basic public service available to all, a common good rather than a private benefit. And that significantly bolsters the trustworthiness of both doctors and politicians when it comes time to tell people what they have to do to stay healthy and keep everyone else healthy.

As I say, it’s not 100% effective. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service, a public good that even Margaret Thatcher dared not threaten, is having the devil’s own time keeping up with outbreaks of COVID-19. Lockdowns come and go and the British paparazzi play tag with Cabinet ministers who break quarantine and forget their masks.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s primary argument for doing what must be done has been to protect the NHS. The Brits love their National Health. The argument — well, the baldfaced lie — that leaving the European Union would allow the U.K. to spend an additional 350 million pounds a week on the service was a clinching argument for the successful Brexit vote.

And then there’s Captain Tom. That’s Thomas Moore, veteran of World War II, who celebrated his 100th birthday back in April by walking laps in his Bedfordshire garden in hopes of raising, oh, maybe 1,000 pounds for NHS-related charities. By the time he was finished, he’d raised more than 32 million pounds, won global praise, had a hit record written about him and received a knighthood.

Even in Utah, where our two biggest health care systems are officially nonprofit, it is difficult to imagine anyone even thinking of taking up a collection to support University Health or Intermountain Healthcare. Not with the scads of money we already spend on health insurance premiums and medical bills.

We live in a nation where health care is reasonably seen as a way for those who run hospitals, make gadgets and manufacture drugs to make tons of money, and any lifesaving benefits that fall off the table are useful byproducts, not the point.

No wonder so many of us are not following doctors' orders.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has been searching for a doctor who will prescribe frozen yogurt, with extra fudge.