Tribune Editorial: This is no time to go wobbly on COVID-19

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert holds up the "Utah Leads Together Plan" while speaking during a press conference with legislative, community, and business leaders at the Utah State Capitol Friday, April 17, 2020, in the Salt Lake City. Utah is aiming to reopen restaurants and gyms and resume elective surgeries in early May under a plan to gradually reopen the economy that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Herbert said Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

“This is no time to go wobbly.”

Margaret Thatcher

The fact that Utah has not — yet — been clobbered by the coronavirus pandemic as violently as many other places should not be seen as a license to get careless.

The pressure on Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as other leaders in Utah and across the nation, to lift stay-at-home orders and guidelines and to reopen restaurants and other businesses will only grow as the weather warms up and many people are either without income or just going a bit stir crazy from prolonged hunkering down.

Herbert last Friday issued a detailed 28-page report entitled “Utah Leads Together, Version 2.” The guts of it is a plan to reopen the state’s economy, cautiously, only as medical science gives assurance that it is not likely to lead to a second wave of the outbreak. Metrics to consider as we go from here to there include using firm numbers, such as measuring a decrease in the rate of new coronavirus-related hospitalizations for five weeks, projections that show no more than 90% of the state’s ICU beds will be in use and a testing regime that ramps up to as many as 6,000 tests a day, as well as tracing cases and contacts.

The only way that plan has a hope of being successful is if state officials monitor the numbers closely, meet or exceed the planned number of tests, are aggressive about tracing contacts and remain fully prepared to reinstate lockdown and distancing orders if the numbers start going the wrong way.

But a flaw that has been part of the state’s coronavirus response from the beginning has not been fixed. Despite holding a savings account of nearly $1 billion, Herbert and other state officials have been unwilling to push much money into a faltering economy. The report and other messages from Utah promote the use of money from the federal CARES Act and other sources — but those streams have already gone dry.

Meanwhile, another committee set up by the Legislature to plan a way out has been put together — white, male and lacking any representation from small business, the backbone of the state’s economy. Not the best way to engender public confidence in our leadership, at time when that is even more important than usual.

Small but vocal groups of people in Utah and across the nation have turned out — sometimes carrying firearms but without even minimal defenses against the spread of the virus — to demand an end to all government orders and guidelines and to basically flaunt their ignorance by making totally invalid claims that the pandemic is a hoax, an exaggeration or a minimal threat compared to the economic and social damage involved in fighting it off. One self-styled freedom fighter was even arrested for threatening the mayor of Salt Lake City.

A virus is not something that recognizes party allegiances, political boundaries or government reports. It cannot be compromised with, intimidated or shamed into retreat.

Foolish demands that we abandon the very policies and practices that have prevented the pandemic from striking us even harder than it has are without merit. And the idea that we need to reopen stores and restaurants and bars in order to keep our economy from sliding down the tubes ignores the damage that would be done to the economy when a lack of caution leads to many millions of cases and many thousands of deaths.

Rather than energize the economy by pretending nothing is wrong and sending everyone back to work, Utah should be following the lead of other states and nations and pumping larges sums on money into the marketplace — mostly in the form of picking up the payrolls of small businesses — so that workers don’t have to apply for unemployment, find other jobs or add to the pressure to flood our communities with fresh hosts for ravenous viruses.