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Teri Orr: Scary times require brave leaders

Teri Orr.
Park Record file photo

OK, Universe — you had me at the coronavirus.

The earthquake was unnecessary.

In the space of one week — one week — we became the epicenter — in Utah — for the most contagious virus on the planet and we experienced a 5.7-magnitude earthquake with more than 40 aftershocks. Even those of us who feel like we have nerves of steel, normally, were rattled. Almost exactly a week ago — as of this writing — there were two confirmed cases of the virus in Summit County and three from out of state. In just one week those numbers have risen expediently — to more than two dozen cases in Summit County and rapidly growing. Even I can do that scary math. It is growing fast — so fast we can expect the numbers to keep spiking for a while because the shelf life of this contagion is long — it can live on surfaces for up to 10 days, experts say.

The solution for containment of the disease — which is emotionally painful for a gregarious community like ours — is containment of the community-social isolation. Scrupulous hygiene — even within your family unit and distancing for those rare occasions you do need to go to the market or pharmacy. Young children are not at the highest risk of getting this disease but they are carriers. The oldest among us are most vulnerable. Those are the hard facts.

Putting the health and safety of our residents above the business interests of our community was a different kind of risk and each of them weighed that. And all settled on life over the temporary loss of some liberties.”

We shut down the town so fast it is dizzying how our entire lives changed in a just a few days’ time. And no doubt hundreds of lives — perhaps thousands of lives were saved — we’ll never know — because of the swift decisive action of brave men and women who put public safety above ego and turf battles and respected jurisdictional authority.

Someday, when this has run its course and we are returned to a new normal, there will be time and space to celebrate the extraordinary leadership that took place to bring us to our current level of shutdown — long before the states around us had adopted our restrictions — long before most of the rest of the state has adopted our tough, smart New Rules. And it all happened because people in places of influence took extraordinarily brave measures to keep us safe. From start to finish — once they had their plans — even as the events and the disease numbers were expanding around them — they took less than 48 hours to — Shut It Down.

Park City Manager Matt Dias ran point inside the city with the leadership of council people Nann Worel and Steve Joyce — pushing to have restaurants and health clubs and the ski resorts shut down to prevent the spread. And their pushes would have fallen on deaf ears and been ineffectual had it not been for the brave, bold decision making by Rich Bullough, the county health director, the ultimate authority in such a crisis. And he knew he had the support of the strong leadership of County Councilors Roger Armstrong and Kim Carson. Along with the cool hand of Tom Fisher, county manager.

Putting the health and safety of our residents above the business interests of our community was a different kind of risk and each of them weighed that. And all settled on life over the temporary loss of some liberties. To a person — they measured carefully and quickly and decisively for life. Your life — your kid’s life. Your grandfather’s life. Your neighbor’s life. All the stranger’s lives. Life.

And now that the new reality is setting in — there are grumbles about what this looks like and feels like day-to-day. We want — in our society of instant gratification — to be done with the unpleasant. We want our toys back and our gatherings and our community of engagement and celebrations. But right now we are at war in a way no generation has ever been before us. And the entire planet has the same alien enemy to fight and it is our chance to work with other countries and health care systems and religious leaders and political ones to forget the borders and the ideologies and focus on a collective battle plan.

As respected international medical experts and highly viewed talking heads and all faiths of religious leaders have urged in the past few days we must all act as if WE each have the virus and do everything possible not to share it with others. That will keep us vigilant and thoughtful and respectful of distances and emotions. This is hard already. It is, however, a matter of life and death.

My favorite lighter but still potentially deadly story happened under the code name Operation Golden Girls. A friend, who lives in Park City, was told her Gram’s nursing home in Salt Lake City was going on lockdown indefinitely — which meant she could no longer visit her beloved Gram. And that Gram would be living in an increasingly confused world of isolation. After much deliberation and lack of consensus with family members in other states, my friend sprung Gram and brought her up here to the comfortable home where my friend lives alone. There was plenty of room and Gram is mobile so these things helped. Gram is in her early 90s. I don’t think my friend has broken 50 yet. It is a rather radical lifestyle change for both of them. The text photo of Gram impeccably dressed and coiffed, sitting in the easy chair watching “Bridesmaids” on the big screen television made me laugh and cry, out loud.

There is kindness and sweetness and tough times and decisions to be made each day ahead. We need to remember our community DNA. After the fire in 1898 when Park City was nearly totally destroyed — we rebuilt. We went from a former flourishing mining town with a beloved (collapsed) Opera House to an international resort community, beloved the world over.

Once we are healthy again — I can’t wait to see who we will become. For now — we need to take care of each other — remotely — every day — especially all the Sundays in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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