As COVID-19 counts rose at more alarming rates—not coincidentally, timed with school re-openings—Utah Gov. Gary Herbert never buckled up. He instead became more the kindly uncle who taps your head at the family Thanksgiving meal, asks your name and gives you a quarter for being a good boy. His call to action did not lead with unflinchingly strong directives, but instead simply suggesting Utahns be respectful of one another, and by golly, to wear a mask, because you should. He never got to the point of requiring mask wearing in public settings nor did he set any tough standards to stop the spread of COVID. Be nice, Utah, be nice. Uh, huh. Uh, huh.
That changed this week when Herbert issued "state of emergency" measures aimed—finally—at slowing the spread of the virus. College or university students who either live on campus or take at least one in-person class per week on campus must be tested weekly. Restrictions were announced for extracurricular sports and activities at Utah high schools. Bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. The core of his directive is that masks be worn at all Utah businesses, both by employees and customers. A business that is noncompliant will face fines.
What finally got to Herbert? The cynical answer is that the governor was in cahoots with the Trump administration and their anti-science ways. People who hang the familiar Gregorian and Julian calendars, or especially those who mark time with the very accurate Solar Hijri calendar quickly noticed that just two days after Trump was declared the loser in the recent election Herbert delivered his COVID orders. Not all Utahns rejoiced at the coincidence.
For instance, as of Nov. 10, there are over 672 Utahns who died during their own "state of emergency" and never got the memo. It's not exactly fair to lay all those wreaths at the feet of Gov. Herbert. Soon to be Gov. Spencer Cox, our current lieutenant governor, was head of Utah's COVID task force, a team known for not doing anything noteworthy. He carries some responsibility here, for sure. Primarily anonymous big-business persons who hold sway in Utah advocated for Herbert to go slowly, lest they lose a buck. So did the Republican leaders on Utah's Capitol Hill lest they lose a vote.
Rounding out the "advocates for a deadlier Utah" team, those assuring that there will more sad endings to Utah's coronavirus tale are the rural Utahns who religiously oppose anything that's good for the greater number of Utahns, the anti-maskers who consider masks as the mark of Satan himself, and, of course, the Freedom Fighters who seemingly believe open-carry sidearms are protection against germs and the persons who respect them. All told, they add up to the equivalent of living second-hand smoke. They make sure some of our fellow Utahns won't spend Thanksgiving with that crazy uncle. They're the smoker who gambled he wouldn't get cancer—and didn't—but who didn't give one flick of cigarette ash to the notion his actions killed others. That's what they are. Second-hand killers.
That said, the question is whether to forgive them or not. If it were turned around, I know what they'd do to me if I lit up in one of their hallowed halls (and I don't smoke). I know what they'd do if I cranked down a pint of vodka and played a game of human bowling down along State Street—they'd find me and lock me up, then they'd find the person who sold me the vodka and lock them up, too. But, ask them to put on a mask to help lessen the number of their fellow Utahns who sicken daily? Hell, no!
Utah's leaders knew the score in April and May regarding COVID-19—Utah was winning, and that was in large part due to decisive actions taken by mayors in Salt Lake and Summit counties requiring safe measures to prevent virus spread. Yet instead of staying that course, Utah let off the gas. In cities like Salt Lake and Park City, businesses that are particularly sensitive to the whims of seasonal tourist travel have just been whacked all over again, right as new COVID restrictions are enacted. They don't get brownie points for being smart these past months—and nearly all have been—all the while begging Gov. Herbert to take action.
Scores of eateries and clubs will not reopen. They would have had a chance to if the government would have backed them up, but as always, cowtipping is more important to a certain group of Utah lawmakers. With the new edict, clubs and restaurants can finally not just ask for compliance, but demand it. It's about time. They are basically the only business category that was asked to comply but with strictly limited occupancy numbers. They will take one for the team again with a 10 p.m. restriction on alcohol sales—despite the fact that the same "state of emergency" stresses that most of the community spread is happening in our homes. Is it OK to drink at home?
There remains $440 million dollars of CARES Act funds left unspent in Utah coffers. Do one more thing, Gov. Herbert. And you, as well, Governor-elect Spencer Cox. Help the hospitality industry and help them fast with that money. When you asked people to do the right thing, the hospitality industry did. The hospitality industry is taking it on the nose—but there are few bars in Utah County, for instance, so why is the spread off the charts there? Our leaders are kicking Utah's gift horse and are fully blind to that fact. Masks don't cover the eyes. Do something.
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