Reese: Herbert & Cox Would Rather Utahns Die than Have a Bad Economic Year


© Noel St. John

Utah Governor Gary Herbert addresses a luncheon at the National Press Club, October 2, 2015. Photo courtesy of Noel St. John.

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, now our governor-elect, have failed Utahns. Early in 2020 they wasted $800,000 on a drug that is proven to not help fight COVID-19. They spent $6.35 million on a contract tracing app even though free and more effective versions of this tool already existed. And Herbert and Cox’s mismanagement of the pandemic has caused needless deaths — 863 Utahns have died from COVID-19, and that number will only be higher by the time you read this. The choices Herbert and Cox have made a signal that they care about big businesses and Utah’s economy more than they care about your life. They reopened too quickly after the lockdown, refused to mandate restrictions to mitigate spread and passed a bill to grant immunity to employers who lack COVID-19 protections for their workers. At the end of the day, Herbert and Cox would rather let you die working than hurt Utah’s reputation for being great for business.

Like many Utahns, I was unable to work at the start of the pandemic. My part-time jobs did not resume until a week after I exhausted my unemployment money. Through the spring and summer, I often scrolled through Twitter in horror at the impact COVID-19 was having on my community. In September, the Salt Lake Tribune published a story about Julio Hernandez, a Utahn who died from COVID-19. His children are unable to sue his employer for not properly protecting him in the workplace because of the immunity the state has granted employers. His employer has also not given Hernandez’s beneficiaries any wages he had yet to receive or death benefits they would normally be entitled to. Instead, they were forced to crowdfund their father’s funeral, relying on donations through GoFundMe.

If Hernandez had died from anything work-related, like an accident, his children could take his employers to court for compensation. However, they cannot do so under these circumstances because Herbert and Cox chose to protect employers over workers.

This lack of responsibility from Utah’s executive branch also played a role in the death of Margarita Satini, a local community organizer and prominent member of Utah’s Pacific Islander community. After her death, Gov. Herbert issued a statement on Twitter which said, “Our prayers and thoughts are with all who mourn the loss of Margarita Satini loss tonight.” Before Satini died from COVID-19, she posted to her Facebook critiquing Herbert for not doing enough to slow the pandemic in Utah.

People are dying because Herbert and Cox have not listened to medical experts and sought to mitigate the damage of COVID-19 but actually loosened restrictions, allowing the virus to infect more and more Utahns. This summer they signed off on changes to the rules about who can serve as head of the Utah Department of Health, which eliminated the requirement for either a medical degree or master’s in public health or administration and reduced the required number of years of public health experience. This allows interim leader Richard Saunders, who initially worked in private sector construction management, to serve as head of the state Health Department. State leaders’ choice to instate a private businessman as Utah’s top public health official makes it very clear that they care more about businesses than individual Utahns.

The state government is only addressing and focusing on COVID-19 as an economic issue, which is a failure on Herbert and Cox’s part. They’ve protected businesses and private interests rather than their constituents. Their “prayers and thoughts” will never evolve into listening to medical experts. At the end of the day, their vision is merely to shore up Utah’s economy — even at the expense of working Utahns. When they’re met with criticism about their leadership or policies, they demand a return to civility in politics. But why should we be civil? Are those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 not allowed to mourn? Are they not allowed to be angry at the leaders who failed to protect their families and friends? It’s clear by now that Cox and Herbert will not listen to their constituents, no matter the tone of the criticism, because they care first and foremost about how Utah looks for business and the economy. They have chosen to put Utah’s economic future ahead of the health of its people, and Utahns are paying the price.


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