Jared Price: Dunces of Utah conspired against doctor who warned us of pandemic dangers

Angela Dunn tried to tell us how to fight COVID-19, but we wouldn’t listen.

(Steve Griffin | Deseret News, pool) Rich Saunders, interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health, left, and Utah epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn listen to Gov. Gary Herbert during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.

“When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

- Jonathan Swift, 1706

Fortunately, we live in an age where any among us can impact our society without being a rare, natural genius. Education is more widely available than ever before. This makes it possible for anyone to become a leader or a teacher.

One such leader and teacher is Dr. Angela Dunn. Dunn, with advanced education in medicine and epidemiology, has proven well equipped to guide our community through the challenges associated with COVID-19.

Long before the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 arrived in Utah, Dunn was informing citizens, government leaders and health care providers about its dangers. She was there when the Utah Jazz returned from Oklahoma City, with two players testing positive and seemingly shutting down the sports world. She’s been present as our elected leaders have navigated a generational pandemic, though she’s had varying success in keeping their attention.

In a June memo to state leadership, Dunn recommended an increase in the restriction level, along with appropriate steps to reduce new cases to 200 per day. Dunn didn’t mince words: “We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown.” Her memo went on to warn: “This might be our last chance for course correction.”

Gov. Gary Herbert, while advised of the imminent danger, chose not to act. No restriction increase, no mask mandate. He held true to the course he followed with Medicaid expansion and other big decisions during his tenure: He stood by, waiting for others to make the difficult decisions. As predicted, case numbers rose.

On Oct. 23, Dunn voiced a warning of bad news: “Today is going to be a record day of new COVID-19 cases in Utah.” The record that day was 1,923.

Dunn then provided insights on how our neighbors in Arizona reduced their case count by 80 percent over the course of one month. Notably, cases decreased only two weeks after government officials implemented a mask mandate.

The masks, of course, have been the big controversy. Surely, nobody wants the government mandating their actions. Yet, there are times when it’s appropriate.

The issue of wearing masks may be analogous to wearing clothing. The government tells us we must be clothed while in public. Laws regarding decency and lewdness get little pushback from society. Some may believe that clothing isn’t necessary during the warmer months. In fact, clothing may cause discomfort and sweating. Has the government overstepped by requiring clothing in public?

By ignoring guidance from experts like Dunn, and failing to implement timely mandates, state government leaders appear to have missed their last chance for course correction. When a loosely enforced mask mandate was finally implemented after the November election, it was too little, too late.

Many fictional movies show some type of catastrophe. We watch as the population acts irrationally, while the powers that be ignore the pleadings of a wise, aged, bearded scientist. Viewers write it off as too fantastic to ever happen. Today, as we see the unthinkable happening, the only way our reality differs from fiction is that we weren’t warned by an old man, but by a well-spoken young woman.

The foreseen confederacy has now become a reality. Protestors have gathered outside the homes of our public health leaders, or organized maskless demonstration walks through the grocery store. These stories always get more attention than the daily case counts or the rising fatality total.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Multiple vaccines now look immensely promising. People will ask questions before allowing a needle in their arm. This is appropriate. Some will turn to social media, with predictable, misguided outcomes.

Let’s hope most of us turn to trustworthy sources: Angela Dunn, her colleagues, and our own physicians. We can only wonder how different our situation would be today if we had been willing to listen to these voices all along.

Jared Price

Jared Price, West Jordan, hopes to one day shake hands with our public health leaders, perhaps without worrying too much about hand sanitizer. He also hopes we never return to eating birthday cake after someone has blown all over it.