Tribune Editorial: Time for a real shelter-in-place order

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News/pool) Gov. Gary Herbert speaks while Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson, left, and Retired Utah Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, now leading the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, right, listen during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Wayne Gretzky

It is past time for the state of Utah, and the United States as a whole, to issue genuine, enforceable shelter-in-place orders.

The justification for the state and federal governments to fob these decisions off to smaller jurisdictions, or put them off until cases spike in a particular area, is based on the irrational idea that there is no need to enforce any special orders in an area if the COVID-19 virus has not already struck there.

But once the virus shows up in a city, a county or a state park, it’s too late to get ahead of it. It becomes a matter of control, not prevention. And that’s not just more difficult. It is infinitely more likely to be fatal, to someone.

Gov. Gary Herbert Friday, again, urged Utahns to observe what he calls his Stay Home, Stay Safe directive. The idea is that everyone who does not have an urgent need to be somewhere should stay home. That basically means if you don’t work at an essential business — grocery, pharmacy, health care center — and are not going there, stay home and chill.

Several counties around Utah have realized that what is essentially a suggestion, even from the bulliest of pulpits, is not enough. Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele and Wasatch counties have issued orders that carry the force of law. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson is among those calling for a statewide mandate.

And, as of late Friday, Utah remains one of only 11 states without a statewide order. Five others, like Utah, have had such orders issued by local officials and five others have taken no steps at any level.

Herbert said he and his staff are keeping watch on the situation and, if there is any reason to believe that compliance with his directive is not what it should be, then he will consider something stronger.

But there is no reason to wait. Make it clear. Now. This is not a suggestion. This is not a drill. This is what every one of us needs to do if we are going to do the only thing that can be done to slow the progress of this biological scourge. There is no vaccine, no real treatment, nothing we can do but keep our distance, stay at home and, as the state, its subdivisions and private sector are ramping up to do, test more people.

There was progress Friday in that, at the urging of the cities close by, the Interior Department announced the closing of Zion National Park.

Herbert also announced that state parks were closed. Well, sort of. Staff at those parks, he said, would be checking to limit access to people who live in the county where each park sits.

Officials also made a reassuring, if tardy, announcement that, in addition to the vastly increased testing that has already begun, they are laying plans for temporary hospitals and for accommodations for people who have tested positive or otherwise require a place to isolate.

At the national level, the president isn’t taking the advice of his top expert on the subject, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said, "I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

Probably because the president is unwilling to do anything to suggest that this is a national issue, for fear he will get blamed for whatever bad happens.

As of Friday, more than half the population of the planet and the vast majority of Americans are under a coronavirus lockdown order.

All Utahns should be among them.