Chris Phillips: We must work together to take politics out of public health

New coalition of parents seeks to protect all of our children from pandemic.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, gets a kiss from her daughter Maggie, 4, during Monday's press conference. A group of Utah parents is suing the state for its ban on school districts enacting their own mask mandates which they say leaves their kids unnecessarily unprotected and at-risk from COVID-19 in the classroom, Aug. 23, 2021.

Advocating for something on your own can be a very lonely pursuit.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I felt very alone. Our kids are all too young to be vaccinated and the delta variant was coming. We hoped that our local leaders would recognize this challenge and act.

But we watched the school year approach with nobody able to protect our children against significant spread. Our local schools’ hands were tied. Our districts’ hands were tied. Even those who wanted to do something — to do anything — couldn’t. The laws enacted this spring by a majority of the Legislature restricted them from acting.

That is the point when I knew that I had to do more. I began reaching out. I reached out to my representative, who helped me connect with other neighbors who felt the same. And I reached out to social media, which helped me find a larger community of people who also felt the same. These were all real people with similar concerns. They all needed, like me, a way to raise their voices and share their perspectives. Together, we found common ground and a common cause.

All of a sudden, my wife and I weren’t alone anymore.

In the subsequent weeks, this Concerned Coalition of parents and community members from across Utah has grown. We have worked together to push for good changes and common-sense solutions that will benefit our communities. And we have found strength and hope in these efforts. We have become a community.

Over 4,000 Utahns have already joined our efforts. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are not red or blue. We aren’t Salt Lake County, Utah County, Davis County or Cache County. We are simply Utah parents and community members who care about the health and safety of our kids, and yours.

Since the school year started just over a month ago, we have seen 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in school-aged children and youth. Fifteen thousand kids who now face potential long-term impacts of this disease. Fifteen thousand kids who may not have access to an open hospital bed if their conditions worsen during this surge.

Sadly, we have lost a 16 year-old and child under 4 years old to this serious disease. We know that a young person between 15-24 years old died from COVID-19 recently, as well.

This doesn’t account for those kids who don’t show symptoms, whose tests aren’t reported, or whose parents won’t get them tested. In such a short time, we’ve already seen significant illness in our Utah kids. Many of our children are still a few months away from the possibility of being fully vaccinated.

That is why we can’t stop pushing. We have seen firsthand the problems with Utah’s new laws around public health emergencies. These laws restrict local health measures, turning them into political footballs with only a slim chance at being implemented.

Our local public health officials need to be able to do their jobs — to protect public health in their local communities. Local health decisions need to be in the hands of our local health experts — not held back by politics or by the overreach of the Utah Legislature.

Utahns have braved many challenges. When we work together instead of alone, we find ways to succeed. COVID-19 should be no different. We are spending too much time politicking instead of focusing our efforts on defeating this disease. So let’s work together to overcome this challenge. And let’s be sure that politics never undermine our ability to protect our children and our public health again.

Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips is a lifelong Utah resident, a father of three, and works for a life sciences company in regulatory and clinical affairs. In August 2021 he co-founded the Utah Concerned Coalition, a grassroots non-partisan organization of more than 4,000 (and counting) Utah parents worried about a lack of preventive measures in Utah schools amid the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.