Tribune Editorial: States take the lead in coronavirus efforts

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Gary Herbert speaks at a news conference in the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, March 12, 2020 addressing the current state of COVID-19 in Utah. Representatives from the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Board of Education, Utah Jazz, local health authorities and Utah Department of Health were also present.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The president of the United States Wednesday night brandished his own favorite hammer at his most feared nail, pretending to take action against the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus by making flimsy and false statements about how he would protect the nation from the COVID-19 bug by banning all travel from Europe to the United States.

Well, a lot of travel from Europe. The ban doesn’t include Great Britain, even though there are many cases there, including Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. It doesn’t include several nations where the president owns a golf resort. It doesn’t include U.S. citizens, legal residents or their close relatives.

The announcement offered little to nothing in the way of things that might actually help. The lack of testing and the sluggish response of federal health officials was neither explained nor excused.

Instead, the pleasingly brief Oval Office address continued the president’s favorite theme of blaming all of the world’s problem on, well, the world, falsely labeling the disease a “foreign virus,” despite the fact that there’s no such thing, and despite the fact that even if it were possible to wall off a nation as large as ours from such a virus, it’s already here.

So the best advice right now may be to stop listening to the president and start listening to people who have a clue what they are talking about. A list that includes Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the governors and health officials of other states and localities.

If you are sick, stay home. Employers, please be understanding of people who are sick or are caring for someone who is or have been exposed to someone who is. Forcing someone who is sick or at risk to come to work because they fear losing their job is a really bad idea.

Large gatherings are a bad idea. Herbert says groups of 100 or more should be avoided, and those who are over 60 or with any kind of compromised health condition should avoid gatherings of 20 or more people.

Ignore the fact that today is Friday the 13th.

The state’s two major health care providers — University Health and Intermountain Healthcare — are ramping up their testing capacity and offering the tests in separate facilities that don’t involve directing possibly infected people into emergency rooms.

The state’s major universities are shifting to online-only classes and canceling spring commencement activities.

Other national and regional organizations are taking reasonable precautions, even actions that disrupt popular traditions and profitable businesses. Professional and top-tier college sports are calling off events. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has canceled all worship services worldwide.

Congress and the states should be about the business of blunting the economic impact of the disease and the resulting change in human behavior. Such steps should be focused at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, with cash assistance for workers who can’t keep drawing a paycheck by working from home, as well as relief from medical costs that are soon to pile up.

There is always the danger that all of this could descend into rank politics. The appointment of politicians — Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Vice President Mike Pence — to lead public health efforts may not have been the best idea.

Reason, science, prudence and cooperation will get us through this. So, for the foreseeable future, ignore the man in the White House, and listen to the experts.