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Utah’s 55-day moonshot: Our quest to quell the pandemic

For 55 days, every Utahn can do something. United, we can celebrate our moonshot success and progress against COVID-19 on Labor Day.

Priscila Nielsen, an advanced emergency medical technician for the Unified Fire Authority, wears a COVID-19 suit at Station 126 in Midvale on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Priscila Nielsen, an advanced emergency medical technician for the Unified Fire Authority, wears a COVID-19 suit at Station 126 in Midvale on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a landmark, visionary speech at Rice University in Texas. He invited the American people to be a part of, and play a part in, a cause and story that would transform life on earth and propel humanity toward the unexplored heavens above.

In describing the audacious endeavor of putting an American on the moon, Kennedy warned citizens that the cynics would criticize, the timid and small-minded would question and oppositional forces would obstruct. But Kennedy saw the race to the moon as a chance to unite the nation through a generational challenge that would surely bring out America’s better angels.

He said of the moonshot moment and fledgling space movement, “Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain?”

Illustration by Alex Cochran and Gracia Lee

President Kennedy‘s appeal for every citizen to do their part was centered in his confidence in the American people, which he punctuated with his clarion call:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Over the past four months, Utahns, Americans and people around the world have attempted to deal with the novel coronavirus. States and nations have struggled with what to do, what government mandates were needed or necessary and how to get individuals and communities to take appropriate action.

Early success in Utah and other areas in flattening the curve were the result of responsible citizens acting appropriately. Government mandates were met with resistance and achieved limited, and often sporadic, success.

The current spike in cases is calling into question what has been done and what has been left undone. The economy is teetering, and another shutdown would be devastating. The upcoming school year is now in question. The rising crisis will require real character and commitment in order to quell and crush it.

A portion of the population views mask wearing as a political issue rather than as a way to protect other people and, ultimately, to keep the state up and running. Fearmongering is real on both ends of the spectrum. It is time for all sides to lay down the Twitter battles, social media rants and shun the false choices.

It is time to lift our gaze and go big — moonshot big.

Consider these compelling questions for every Utahn: If you believe it is vital for your children and grandchildren to be in school this fall, what are you willing to do? If you want to meet friends at the mall, celebrate a birthday or attend church services, what are you willing to do? If you want to support the local economy, build your business, advance your career, serve in your community, provide for your family and have Utah lead the nation out of the pandemic, what are you willing to do?

Utah’s moonshot

Utah’s moonshot is a shot at a common cause — all of us coming together to take on a global challenge. In taking on and taking out COVID-19, we can show the country that Utah is a laboratory of democracy with a model for problem-solving that works.

Labor Day is 55 days away. A 55-day moonshot is more than doable for the people of this state. Here are the details:

  • For 55 days, in a show of solidarity, commitment and shared sacrifice, everyone can wear a mask, maintain social distance, isolate as needed, support and celebrate health care workers, care for vulnerable neighbors, engage appropriately with local businesses and pray for heavenly help.
  • For 55 days, Utahns can mask their faces and unmask the soul of a state for the world to watch.
  • For 55 days, without shaming, judging or value signaling, Utahns can simply come together. When we encounter someone without a mask we can assume the best. We can encourage positive behavior and engage in critical conversations.
  • For 55 days, families can continue to make hard decisions to honor loved ones with small private funerals and limit guests as they celebrate weddings and other important milestones. Those who love them can continue to be creative in their support by promoting acknowledgments that support social distancing.
  • For 55 days, Utah citizens can get tested and self-isolate after exposure to COVID-19.
  • For 55 days, government can provide an extra measure of transparency and accountability relating to testing, results, data and trends.
  • For 55 days, businesses can continue to support remote employees and take responsible precautions when essential workers come to the office.
  • For 55 days, our reemerging sports teams can walk onto the court, field or pitch sporting masks as a signal to fans that we are united.
  • For 55 days, young people can sacrifice for their parents and grandparents by joining this effort.

We can do anything for 55 days.

Surely a state that can voluntarily produce nearly 6 million masks in a matter of weeks can don them in public for 55 days.

We choose this 55-day moonshot, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” We want our children safely in school and our vulnerable populations secure come Labor Day. We want our churches safely open and our economy to be humming by fall. “This goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

To the skeptics, to those that oppose the wearing of masks, we need you. Come along for 55 days with us on this journey. We can disagree on whether or not the science is unsettled. But if those that suggest masks are part of the solution are right, we will greatly reduce both the spread and the potency of the viral load. This doesn’t mean wearing a mask alone in a car or alone on a sparsely traveled path. It means wearing a mask when we are likely to come in close contact with others.

Such a pioneering moonshot is not new to the people of Utah. We have been here before.

Next week, Utahns will celebrate Pioneer Day. Pioneers never wait for government mandates or rely on Washington to tackle tough problems. Pioneers act where they are able and measure the best of their energies and skills by their ability to unite around a common cause.

On July 24, 1847, a group of weary travelers began to straggle into the Salt Lake valley. There was no time to rest. A city needed to be laid out, shelter established, crops planted, and thousands of their brothers and sisters scattered across the American plains needed to be brought in.

Utah pioneers felt a responsibility toward those they traveled with and those who would come after. Because of that mindset there was a spirit of cooperation instead of criticism and shared responsibility instead of selfishness.

The pioneers were driving forward on a moonshot of their own, crossing the American wilderness and then attempting to tame and settle it.

Shared sacrifice and commitment to community pushed the audacious dream forward. The pioneers relentlessly innovated and repeatedly united to transform seeming impossibilities into progress. Quelling and conquering COVID-19 will require nothing less.

In an often-overlooked line in Kennedy’s speech, he exhibits the kind of vision and leadership required to accomplish a moonshot-worthy goal. In describing the new-age spacecraft, he said it would be “a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch.”

Note that Kennedy said, “made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented.” That is bold and audacious. So confident was Kennedy in the people that he could, in essence, say that some of what was needed to achieve the moonshot goal didn’t exist yet, but America and the American people would deliver.

Some of what we need to defeat this virus hasn’t been invented yet, but shared sacrifice and united effort will deliver the victory in the end.

The greatest cause for confidence in achieving this big, audacious, 55-day moonshot goal is found in Utah’s most priceless and powerful asset — its people.

For 55 days, every Utahn can do something. United we can celebrate our moonshot success and progress against COVID-19 on Labor Day. Utah’s 55-day moonshot challenge “is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Let’s go!