Tribune Editorial: Our leaders have surrendered to COVID. We can’t.

(Pat Bagley | The Salt Lake Tribune) This cartoon, titled "Who Was That Masked Man?," appears in The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.

Any good carpenter will tell you: Measure twice. Cut once.

But as both the United States and the state of Utah see terrifying increases in the number of COVID-19 infections, it is becoming clear that whatever careful measurements have been taken — and there haven’t been enough — are being mostly ignored in the politically driven push to cut back on the lockdowns and other restrictions that were supposed to break the back of this pandemic.

It now appears clear that, if we are going to beat back the worst effects of this pandemic, we will have to do so individually — as families, businesses, school districts and cities — because the state and federal government have basically declared victory and gone home.

The desire of public officials across the nation to appear to have been successful, combined with a reluctance to ask any entitled individual to take even minimal inconveniencing actions for the greater good, amounts to a surrender that likely will sicken millions and kill thousands.

Politics, not science, and not even good economics, are guiding our government’s choices.

At the national level, the president of the United States stands in a half-empty arena and brags that he told federal agencies to cut back on the number of coronavirus tests given because the higher numbers make him look bad.

Here in Utah, a series of serious news briefings and a succession of color-coded plans and guidelines has been pursued at the highest levels of our government as if the coronavirus can read government documents and would dutifully retreat as the state moved from orange to yellow to green.

If the virus could read, it would be laughing at us now.

What those of us who can read now know is that as Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and their mostly moribund Coronavirus Task Force have eased up on restrictions — which were never much more than recommendations anyway — the daily rate of reported infections has shot up. And it is not, as the president has suggested, just because we are doing more tests. We aren’t.

Worse is the unconscionable behavior of Attorney General Sean Reyes and former House Speaker Greg Hughes, now a candidate for governor, blatantly deny both scientific understanding and basic decency by showing up at a protest concert and other events designed to put a potentially deadly ignorance on display.

The other day the state’s real expert in epidemiology, Dr. Angela Dunn, looked in justified horror at daily infection counts that were topping 500 new cases a day — when the state’s own metric for having the virus under control is less than 200 per day — and warned that real trouble is on the horizon.

Unless we reverse this trend, and soon, the state’s distinction of having avoided the kind of overwhelmed health care system that struck New York and parts of Europe could be lost.

“We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown,” Dunn wrote to state officials. “This might be our last chance for course correction.”

Herbert said Tuesday that he was not going to shut down the state’s economy again. But, on our current course, he won’t have to. It will close itself down, as people are, quite reasonably, afraid to go to work, to go shopping, to go to school. Which will be as damaging to the economy as any government-ordered lockdown — and less well planned.

Herbert says he has heard the good doctor’s warning and cares about it. But, beyond modeling the basic decency of wearing a mask whenever he appears in public, the governor seems to have chosen to be powerless to actually do anything about it.

Wearing masks in all public places should not just be a suggestion. It should be an order. As the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have requested and as health experts have advised.

We should also be doing what we should have been doing all along. Keeping our distance. Washing our hands. Showing each other basic respect.

We are going to have to be doing this for ourselves. The government has given up.

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