Apr 23 2020
It has been just over one month since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Since that day our lives have been turned upside down. Schools have been closed, stay-at-home orders issued, businesses shuttered and lives lost.
This has been a trying time for our country.
But the crisis has also revealed just how resilient, compassionate and resourceful our communities can be in the face of adversity.
Utah State University partnered with local community leaders to produce 3D-printed personal protective equipment for health care workers. Silicon Slopes partnered with the Utah Health Department to create an online tool — TestUtah.com — that lets Utahns assess their need for a COVID test and even schedule testing at a mobile testing location. And the University of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare, and Latter-day Saint Charities are teaming up to recruit 10,000 volunteers a week to sew 5 million face masks.
These are just some of the ways the private sector has collaborated with federal, state and local governments to respond to the crisis. And we are going to need a lot more of just these kinds of collaborations as we begin to reopen Utah’s economy.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s Economic Response Task Force has outlined just such a vision in its “Utah Leads Together” plan. The Task Force rightly stresses that there will be no “one size fits all” plan to restart Utah’s economy. Instead, the federal government will support states as they manage locally executed plans that reflect the diverse geographies, densities and demographics of our many different communities.
Salt Lake City’s plan to reopen is not going to look like San Juan County’s. Provo’s needs are going to be different than Ogden’s. But there are going to be similar principles in all these plans.
First, we all have to realize that this is not going to be like walking into a room and turning a light switch back into the “on” position. This is going to be more like a dimmer switch, with each community slowly turning the lights back on at its own pace while the state closely monitors important data like hospitalizations and positive cases detected.
Second, only the public can truly turn the economy back on. Federal, state and local governments can formally rescind “stay-at-home” orders and open parks all they want, but until the people believe they and their loved ones will be safe, sustained economic activity will not return. The public has to believe that whatever new safety protocols have been put in place will keep the virus at bay.
Third, we must identify ways to protect the most vulnerable. Whether it is as simple as staggering business hours so that high-risk individuals can shop without crowds, or limiting visits to hospitals and nursing homes, life is not going to return to normal for all of us.
There is a proper role for Washington to play as well, and I will be working to make sure the federal government executes its duties as effectively as possible as I serve on President Trump’s Opening Up America Again Congressional Group.
Our first job was to replenish the exhausted Paycheck Protection Program, a positive step toward recovery that was blocked for 10 days by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Almost $349 billion has been lent to small businesses to keep paychecks flowing through this program, including $2.6 billion in Utah alone. Getting this program restarted is a good first step.
But there are other things the federal government could be doing to support states as they develop their plans for recovery including addressing business-liability issues, enabling telemedicine across state lines, and reforming constrictive laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which have put a stranglehold on valuable job-creating infrastructure projects for decades now.
We are going to beat this virus. But things are going to be different. Until a vaccine is developed or we develop herd immunity, we may have to get used to wearing masks when we are in public. It may be awhile before 63,000 Utahns pack into Lavell Edwards Stadium to watch the Cougars play the Utes again.
But we are going to get through this. Gov. Herbert’s plan for a soft opening on May 1 is a good first step. And our economy and our communities are going to come back stronger than ever.