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Jenny Wilson: We need leaders who understand how to fight COVID-19

As difficult as this year has been, I remain committed to the future, both in the challenging weeks and months ahead but also during the post-COVID-19 recovery.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Pamela’s Place Apartments in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Editor’s note: Read the closing argument by Trent Staggs, Republican candidate for Salt Lake County mayor, here.

In mid-April, my teenage son became ill very quickly and, within hours, had a cough and a temperature of 103 degrees. Of course, my husband and I immediately thought the worst — COVID-19 — so I called the Salt Lake County Health Department and the health screener confirmed my son should receive a test.

At the testing site a few hours later, my mask kept the fear and panic I was feeling inside from scaring my son. The two days we then quarantined at home waiting for his results were probably the longest days of my life.

Every morning when I look at the latest count of confirmed cases in the county, I think about that fear — the worry their families must feel. The horror of wondering whether a loved one is weeks away from dying alone in hospital, unable to hug their family goodbye.

As a community it seems like we’ve developed an immunity to those daily news stories about statewide case counts, and that immunity may be the most dangerous threat of all.

The leadership of government officials can only do so much, but it also should not be acceptable for our leaders to stand back and say “you’re on your own,” hiding under a cloak of constitutional liberty and personal freedom.

I’ve worked hard to protect Salt Lake County during this pandemic, reengineering the county bureaucracy to deliver a sophisticated, whole-of-government response. I put politics aside and focused on the science. I listened to epidemiologists and public health experts, and I made the tough choices that needed to be made in order to bend the curve and help our hospitals address the crisis.

I heard from small businesses who were deeply concerned about their employees’ health and the lack of consumer confidence necessary for customers to enter their establishments.

Our countywide mask requirement not only saved lives — it saved jobs. It leveled the playing field for businesses and helped all of us find the confidence necessary to safely re-engage in the world outside our homes. Exactly two weeks after the requirement took effect — the incubation period — cases in Salt Lake County began to drop. Salt Lake County’s share of Utah’s caseload declined, proof of its effectiveness.

We knew businesses were impacted by early closures and our county teams pulled together a $40 million grant program to help local small businesses and sent $11.4 million to local schools to help them purchase personal protective equipment and laptop computers. We ensured the most vulnerable of our homeless community were sheltered safely. We increased our support for a program that pays local restaurants to cook healthy meals for struggling families and funded additional support for victims of domestic violence.

The challenges presented by this pandemic have been complex and required serious leadership … and the pandemic is far from over. The pandemic will look a lot different this winter than it did this summer, and many have been impacted by lost revenues and lost jobs. We need leaders who understand how to put the tools of government to work to help.

As difficult as this year has been, I remain committed to the future, both in the challenging weeks and months ahead but also during the post-COVID-19 recovery. My team remains nimble and committed and now is not the time to shift course.

My son tested negative for COVID-19 that day in April. We were lucky. But when the health of his grandmother — my mother-in-law — rapidly declined soon after, the pandemic meant he couldn’t give her a final hug or provide a final goodbye in person.

There are too many Salt Lake County families with stories just like mine, and they drive me every day to put everything I can into fighting this pandemic. I hope I’ve earned your trust and your vote.

Jenny Wilson is the mayor of Salt Lake County.