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In our opinion: Utahns need a ‘certain trumpet’ to lead them through COVID-19

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Medical Reserves Corps Mobile Testing Team administrators Mikayla Gibson, left, and Aaron Dayne Smith administer a COVID-19 test outside of Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 22, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It’s discouraging that, after all the pain of March and April, progress in the fight against COVID-19 seems like a mirage. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising given the vacuum of leadership across the country.

Rather than flock to a certain trumpet, Americans have mostly endured uncertainty and vague promises, waffling predictions and competition between politicians and scientists. It’s no wonder masks are left at home as crowds continue to grow. When faced with perpetual ambiguity, Americans will forge their own path.

We normally appreciate that pioneering spirit. Communities are at their best when they lead and let the politics follow. But leadership still matters, and in a global crisis that threatens the right to life, the country is reaping what it has sown.

More than half the states, Utah included, have seen a rush of new infections that can mostly be traced back to Memorial Day weekend, according to national health experts. That’s when crowds of vacation-goers combined with relaxed restrictions across the country.

In a memo last week authored by Utah’s state epidemiologist with the Department of Health, Dr. Angela Dunn warned, “We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown. This might be our last chance for course correction.”

Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at University of Utah Health, added his observation: “I’m afraid that people when they hear we’re going to yellow or we’re going to green, what people assume is that is less risky. It’s in fact the opposite. The risk increases with the more opening up we have.”

Utah’s color code, effective as it is, certainly layers in confusion once residents can’t differentiate between “yellow” or “smart green.” The state’s COVID-19 Community Task Force ought to be out in front of every Utahn, clarifying the message and urging compliance with the state’s established guidelines. Instead, it’s been absent. It reportedly moved to meeting on an “as-needed” basis earlier this month, according to an email obtained by Utah Policy. Those familiar with the group say it hasn’t met since June 9.

In the middle of this pandemic, Americans and Utahns want leaders to communicate with them in a way that promotes confidence and provides certainty. Citizens are waiting, watching and listening for what can best be described as the “certain trumpet” of leadership.

In ancient battles, the noise and clamor of war created chaos. If the leader couldn’t clearly communicate with the troops the army would face certain defeat. Thus, the “certain trumpet” was devised. Every soldier was trained to recognize the sound, so even in moments of confusion each would know whether to advance or retreat, to attack the left flank or the right.

The New Testament asks the question: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

People are desperate to hear certainty coming from national, state and local leaders. COVID-19 has proven to be a deadly battle, requiring those fighting against it, or attempting to live with it, to know and understand how to act with discipline and restraint.

Utahns have shown that they will respond to clear, certain messages with a willingness to sacrifice, change behavior, modify routines and make accommodations in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Leaders must be clear and unequivocal, transparent and accountable. Citizens must be willing to act and sustain precautionary behavior. Working together, leaders and the people of Utah can again turn the tide of COVID-19 and lead the nation out of the pandemic.