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How Utah’s COVID-19 Response Would Have Been Better with Jan and Joe

By Dr. Joe Jarvis

A standard campaign-season question is, “What would be different between the current administration and yours?” This year, it comes with a twist: “How would Utah’s response to the coronavirus pandemic have been different under a Garbett/Jarvis Administration?” It’s a fair question, but we want to take care that our answer doesn’t undermine the efforts of Utah’s current leadership. They are working hard under difficult circumstances, and we are grateful for the good they’ve done. With that in mind, I’d instead like to pretend that a second coronavirus pandemic happens two years from now, under Governor Jan Garbett and Lieutenant Governor Dr. Joe Jarvis.

By 2022, a Garbett/Jarvis Administration will have incorporated public health into our state infrastructure. No previous Utah Governor has ever put state dollars into public health. Standard practices like communicable disease control have always been left up to counties. We will fund those county health departments with state tax dollars, ensuring that Utah will always have enough trained professionals in every county to mount a rapid response to health threats. So when COVID-21 has more cases occurring outside of China than inside it in February 2022, our public health department professionals will already be trained on how to test for cases and identify symptoms, and they will be teaching hospital nurses and EMTs how to do the same.

In 2020, Jan Garbett discovered Utah-based company Co-Diagnostics, which had developed an effective COVID-19 test early on, but until recent days was stuck behind FDA red tape. In 2022, we would know to buy tests like this and deploy them just within the State of Utah for targeted case identification and contact tracing. This is what Singapore and South Korea did to spare their countries from the worst of the pandemic. We would do the same thing on a state level here in Utah. If we are proactive enough, we might be able to spare the state from a general stay-at-home order. Even if the virus spreads so fast that a lockdown can’t be avoided, the same methodology will be needed when the time comes for Utah to lift social distancing measures, and we will do so with a greater degree of confidence that it really is safe.

Pandemics that require lockdowns inevitably inflict economic damage. Rather than trying to avoid it, which will only prolong the outbreak and therefore the economic distress, the state should take proactive steps to mitigate the economic hardship. A Garbett/Jarvis Administration would have banned most evictions and foreclosures earlier than the Herbert/Cox Administration did. We would couple that with an expansion of SNAP and school-based meals so that every Utah child would be guaranteed enough to eat. And to help families who might be losing their health insurance coverage due to unemployment, we would expand state-sponsored healthcare programs like Medicaid and CHIP. Measures like these are how a state makes families its first priority.

We would also act to preserve the businesses and arts communities that make Utah unique. When the government mandates that a business, museum, theatre, or other venue close temporarily, then the government shoulders the responsibility to make sure that business can re-open when the threat has passed—a government-mandated cost should be paid for by the government. A Garbett/Jarvis Administration will find creative solutions to defer rents, cover payroll, or otherwise ensure that Utahns will be able to return to their jobs when the pandemic is over. Because once it’s safe to venture out again, we will need strong businesses and vibrant arts!

Finally, our Utah elections will be handled very differently by our administration during this hypothetical 2022 pandemic. Americans have never let catastrophe stop us from carrying out free and fair elections, and we shouldn’t allow pandemic precautions interfere with the public’s right to choose its leadership either. But we can’t pretend that campaigning as usual will work during a pandemic—signature gathering is impossible, and group meetings like conventions have been banned. The minimal adjustments offered by the Herbert administration in 2020 fail to confront these realities. A Garbett/Jarvis Administration, in contrast, would grant access to the primary ballot to all campaigns that registered with the appropriate elections office and made a good-faith effort to collect signatures until the time a stay-at-home order was issued.

To summarize: A Garbett/Jarvis Administration will invest state money in county health offices, giving our state the resources and personnel needed to handle the next pandemic in the right way. We will take proactive measures to provide testing. If a shelter-in-place order is needed, it will come earlier, and it will come with measures designed to help families and businesses not only weather the storm but return to normal life and quickly and securely as possible. And finally, we will ensure that our democracy continues to thrive by removing barriers to the ballot that don’t make sense during an emergency situation.


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