Bob Rees & Clifton Jolley: Live free and die. Our suicide pact with COVID-19.

“Refusing to wear a mask is the most brainless, selfish way to assert your liberty.”

— Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times

Utah has experienced 800-plus deaths from COVID-19. Medical specialists tell us that most of these deaths were preventable had leaders followed the advice of doctors and epidemiologists by early on instituting such simple procedures as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.

Some people still refuse to accept this advice, which is one of the reasons there will continue to be more deaths.

When the ancient Israelites were plagued by poisonous serpents, God instructed Moses to fashion a staff with a serpent of brass and tell those bitten that all they had to do to stay alive was to look at the serpent: “if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

The Book of Mormon Prophet Nephi says that the only “labor which they had to perform was to look.” Some did and lived, but many did not and died. As Nephi says, “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17:41).

Some scholars believe there is a connection between Moses’ bronze serpent and the serpent-entwined staff of Asclepius, the symbol of physicians dating from ancient Greece. According to Rabbi Ari Vernon, “The healing powers associated with the staff of Asclepius and the Israelite bronze serpent may imply a relationship between the two symbols.”

Not only have many Utahns refused to follow simple medical advice, but they have done so, ironically, in the name of personal freedom.

“This is the Land of the Free,” “We have our First Amendment Rights,” “Don’t tread on me!” One Pennsylvanian told an interviewer from Vox.com, “I’m empathetic that anyone has to die ever, but that’s the reality of our lives. Death isn’t the worst evil.”

No, but not stopping preventable deaths may be.

When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he did not mean, “Give me liberty and give me death.”

So, why no statewide mask mandate? Why do we refuse to treat this as the worldwide pandemic it is and the Utah epidemic it has become? Why does a Latter-day Saint bishop we know report that some members of his congregation refuse to attend church service if other congregants are wearing masks?

Much of this madness can be laid at the feet of a president who consistently mocked and denigrated the wearing of masks and who flouted social distancing. Many Utahns chose to believe him over doctors and scientists.

Given the choice of believing Donald Trump or doctors, many chose Trump and got death, as the following shows.

O deaths (Jan. 22): “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

22 deaths (March 10): “I’d rate it a 10” [Trump’s rating of his coronavirus response].

552 deaths (March 24): “I’d love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

10,000 deaths (April 6): “LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!”

20,000 deaths (April 11): “I couldn’t have done it any better.”

50,000 deaths (April 23): “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute.”

90,000 deaths (May 16): “We’ve done a GREAT job on COVID response,”

130,000 deaths (July 6): “I think we are in a good place.”

160,000 deaths (Aug. 5): It will go away like things go away.”

180,000 deaths (Aug. 30): “We’ve done a great job with COVID, but we don’t get the credit.”

200,000 Deaths (Sept. 21): “We’re rounding the corner.”

220,000 deaths (Oct. 19): “They are getting tired of the pandemic. You turn on CNN, that’s all they cover. ‘COVID, COVID, COVID, pandemic, COVID, COVID.’”

250,000 deaths (Nov. 18): Deaths continue to rise. Trump is silent.

260,000 deaths (Nov. 25). Trump is silent.

When he has nothing to say, we can finally believe him.

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D. Visiting Professor & Director of Mormon Studies Graduate Theological Union Berkeley, Calif.

Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., is a visiting professor and director of Mormon studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Clifton Jolley

Clifton Jolley, Ph.D., is president of Advent Communications, Ogden.