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Heed the warning, Utah. COVID-19 is a matter of life and death

It remains up to each individual to take the coronavirus seriously. This isn’t about politics. It’s about public health and personal responsibility

Gov. Gary Herbert discusses the state’s mask mandate and other orders during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On Sunday night, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in a televised message, issued a state of emergency and, for the first time, called for a statewide mask mandate. Social gatherings are limited for two weeks to only those in your own household, and college students who attend in-person classes will be tested each week.

“We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer,” the governor said.

It’s decisive action and the right course. In July we issued a 55-day challenge to wear a mask and socially distance to curb the surge by Labor Day. There were some gains, but not enough. This week the state’s current seven-day average for new confirmed cases is 2,290, and there are other numbers more concerning.

A Deseret News report by Sara Israelsen-Hartley this weekend reveals the excess death rate in Utah crossed an important line in the summer. As Sara wrote, “Excess death is calculated by comparing all deaths during a certain time period against the average number of deaths during that same period in previous years.”

In 13 of the past 17 weeks in Utah, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention week-by-week death data show the state has surpassed the worst-case-scenario number of deaths — ranging from 13% to 26% increases this year over years past. One-third of Utah’s deaths, as of Aug. 1, were caused by COVID-19. What about the rest? That’s still unknown, but Utah’s Chief Medical Examiner Erik Christensen told our reporter he believes the bulk of excess deaths are collateral COVID-19 damage: people dying as a result of “disruptions from the pandemic.”

Utah’s had its wake-up call for months, and yet many Utahns continue to push against efforts to socially distance, limit gatherings and wear a mask. This really is a question of life and death.

It’s tempting to say, with the numbers among the worst in the nation, that this action is too little too late. But it is not. Every day is a new opportunity for Utahns to heed the governor and health officials warnings and requests. Everyone can curtail the dramatic spread of COVID-19.

There is also another reason to be optimistic about the future. The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which is developing a COVID-19 vaccine with German drugmaker BioNTech, announced Monday its vaccine was 90% effective in preventing the disease in trials. That optimism was enough to send the stock market soaring. Nevertheless, these remain only trials and it is foolish not to change our own behavior with the hope of something saving us in the future.

The conclusion? It remains up to each individual to take the coronavirus seriously. This isn’t about politics. It’s about public health and personal responsibility.

The time is now.