Tribune Editorial: Time to test, trace and isolate

(Steve Griffin | Deseret News, pool) Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox talk as they leave a press conference where Gov.-elect Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson announced details related to their upcoming transition of leadership from the Gold Room at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

The numbers of new cases, deaths and current hospitalizations related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah continue to spiral upward. Friday set more records in all the categories. It is appalling.

The only thing moving down seems to be the number of children enrolled in Utah’s public schools. Between families who choose to have their children doing lessons at home, children who don’t do well online seeking out traditional classrooms and former students going to work to supplement their families' sometimes reduced incomes, Utah schools have seen their first enrollment decline in about forever.

And the University of Utah is not the only college football program to cancel what would have been the first game of an already delayed season.

All that on the heels of the promise from Gov.-elect Spencer Cox to be “big and bold initiatives” in launching his administration. Which leads one to wonder why Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, titular head of the state’s Coronavirus Task Force, hasn’t been bolder over the past eight months.

And why Cox expects us to sit still until he gets a report from his transition committee about what to do. Or what should have been done months ago.

Between now and January, when Cox takes office, people will die. People who won’t die will be saddled with ongoing and mysterious ailments for weeks, months or years. Businesses are closing, in some cases forever, people are losing jobs, savings and homes.

Children are losing what may well turn out to be an entire year of crucial educational — and social — experiences. And the present dysfunction of the Salt Lake City School Board, which might have been merely embarrassing under normal circumstances, is adding damage in a time of stress.

Utah has wasted irreplaceable time dawdling, timidly refusing to issue effective mask mandates or taking other actions that are known to be the best tools we have to prevent, or at least slow, the transmission of the coronavirus from one person to another.

We have foolishly pretended that it was government overreach that has shut down businesses and schools, when all along it has been the virus, not the state, that is causing people to avoid restaurants and classrooms.

The state and the business community have been encouraging responsible behavior through websites and ad campaigns, but just encouraging clearly isn’t enough.

If we are not willing to shut down all businesses and all schools, and there are very strong reasons not to, then a much more aggressive testing and tracing regimen must be put into place a soon as possible.

With the right kind of data, updated continually, it would at least be possible to figure out individual businesses, gathering places and schools — ideally down to individual classrooms, students and teachers — that should be isolated.

Strong enough testing and tracing could do about as much good to limit the virus, with much less need to close down whole cities or school districts. Rolling shutdowns, frustrating as they would be, are less damaging to our economic and educational needs than total shutdowns would be.

The state — or the cities, counties and school districts — will have to blow by objections from those who think the basic governmental purpose of ensuring public safety is somehow a violation of their human and constitutional rights.

We can’t wait another two months to get this going.