Commentary: In recovery from the pandemic, Utah must rise together

This is an opportunity for social transformation, not just a return to the way things were.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Covid -19 vaccinations at the Mountain America Expo site in Sandy on Monday, March 8, 2021.

This year, Easter, Passover and Ramadan fall within a two-week span. In our own ways, we mark the season with a combination of grief and hope. Slavery to freedom. Death to resurrection. Repression to revelation.

Our festive gatherings this year — the Passover seder, the Easter Celebrations, the iftars and Eid — are diminished by the absence of loved ones who have passed from, or cannot be with us in person because of, COVID-19. Still we are lifted by the hope that next year we will again be together, in body as well as in spirit.

More than anything, we are afire with the conviction that we cannot resume life as it was in Utah — that this collective suffering must lead to societal transformation.

Earlier this week the Utah Department of Public Health released new data on the impact of COVID and the progress of state vaccination efforts. This data is a painful reminder that though we have all suffered during the pandemic, we have not suffered equally. In Salt Lake County:

  • White Utahns are three times more likely to have received vaccines than Black, Latino or Pacific Islander Utahns.

  • Pacific Islander Utahns are 30 times more likely to die of COVID than white Utahns, Native American Utahns are 18 times more likely to die of COVID than white Utahns, and Latinx Utahns are 15.5 times more likely to die of COVID than white Utahns.

  • Pacific Islander and Latinx Utahns have been roughly 2 times more likely to contract COVID than white Utahns.

These disparities are the result of countless systemic barriers. We now have the tools to dismantle them.

As a result of the American Rescue Plan, Utah will receive billions. More than $1 billion will go directly to local governments, and roughly $1.66 billion will go to state government for vaccine distribution, education, health, infrastructure, housing, economic development and family support. This is on top of the billions that will go directly to Utah families in the form of stimulus payments, health care subsidies, and the family tax credit championed by Sen. Mitt Romney.

If we allocate these new resources as we have done in the past, the inequities of the past year will persist. Our faith commands us to demand that these new resources correct the inequities that have been exposed over the past year.

This can take many forms: an expanded army of community health workers competent in the language and culture of all of Utah’s communities; extended school days and tutoring for those who lost the most learning this year; affordable high-speed internet for everyone; more affordable housing and supportive services for unhoused Utahns; mental health services for those who have experienced trauma; and income support for low-wage front-line workers. We can do this and so much more with the resources coming to our state.

We don’t pretend to have all the best policy ideas, but we know where to look. The Islamic tradition gives us the concept of “shura” — literally, “mutual consultation.” Over the next three weeks the civic and religious leaders of United Today, Stronger Tomorrow will consult statewide with more than 1,000 Utahns impacted by COVID through surveys and small group meetings to identify the investments that are best for our state. We will use this deep mutual consultation to form an equitable agenda for the future of Utah, and present it to our political leaders.

By working across lines that have traditionally divided us — be they religion, race, or political partisanship — we can use this moment to build a Utah where we all truly rise together.

Luna Banuri

Luna Banuri is the executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League.

Bishop Scott B. Hayashi

Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

Rabbi Sam Specter

Rabbi Samuel L Spector is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, Utah’s largest synagogue.

Together, they serve on the Organizing Committee of United Today Stronger Tomorrow Utah.