Record editorial: Health experts, not politicians, should determine when the pandemic is over
When should mask mandates be lifted, social distancing requirements be dropped and daily life in Utah resemble something like before the pandemic struck?
That’s an important question, and one that is becoming increasingly relevant as the state’s vaccination campaign inoculates more and more Utahns against COVID-19.
Just as important: Who should decide the answer?
To many Parkites, it may be obvious: Health officials, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout the pandemic, are best equipped to make decisions regarding public health.
Many state lawmakers, unsurprisingly, disagree and have not been shy in asserting their opinion that they should be the ones to determine when Utah abandons the measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
One bill on Capitol Hill, for instance, would lift the statewide restrictions based on the state hitting thresholds on certain benchmarks, such as the 14-day case rate and the total number of vaccines sent to Utah. The concept itself is reasonable, but the problem is that health officials say the thresholds are too loose and could unnecessarily imperil Utahns right at the moment we are turning the tide against the pandemic.
It was unclear on Friday morning whether the bill, H.B. 294, would make it to the finish line before the end of the legislative session at midnight, or if Gov. Spencer Cox would sign it if it did. But it’s emblematic of the kind of hubris many lawmakers have shown throughout the pandemic as they’ve sought to wrest control of the coronavirus response both from the governor and local health departments.
They either think they know better, or they can’t stomach the idea of someone else calling the shots.
Utahns, though, would be better served if they stepped aside.
No one is advocating that we live with coronavirus restrictions a day longer than we need to. In fact, there is reason to be optimistic that we may be able to ditch them — or at least significantly reduce them — sometime this summer if enough people get vaccinated and we continue to be vigilant about protecting ourselves and others.
After enduring this brutal pandemic for the last year, all Utahns are looking forward to that day.
But with lives still at stake, ensuring we don’t ease up prematurely is critical. It shouldn’t be up to politicians to declare victory over the pandemic in our state.
That should be left to the health experts. Their guidance has been the reason Utah has weathered the coronavirus crisis as well as it has, even if lawmakers too often opted to chart their own course.
And it is their guidance that will get us to the finish line as we approach what we hope are the final months of the pandemic.
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