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In our opinion: Utah’s 55-day moonshot challenge is ending, but fighting the virus must go on

Dijanette Alcaraz, 12, is tested for COVID-19 by the Salt Lake County Health Department in the parking lot of the Maverik Center in West Valley on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. The free testing was set up for residents of Kearns, Magna, Taylorsville, West Valley City or the west side of Salt Lake City.
Dijanette Alcaraz, 12, is tested for COVID-19 by the Salt Lake County Health Department in the parking lot of the Maverik Center in West Valley on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Monday marks not only Labor Day but also the conclusion of our 55-day “moonshot” challenge to quell the pandemic.

In the spirit of President John F. Kennedy’s inspired, and inspiring, appeal for every American to do their part in order for the U.S. to put a man on the moon, the 55-day moonshot was dependent on each Utahn doing their part. The effort was designed to further flatten the curve, protect the vulnerable, prepare for the school year and create space for society and the economy to open back up. Everyone was asked to do what they could.

Kennedy’s challenge showcased 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.”

Most Utahns have demonstrated that this goal of taking individual action against COVID-19 was one they were willing to accept, unwilling to postpone and one they intended to win. As of this writing, the seven-day rolling average has been driven down to 376, even with schools opening up, sports programs reemerging and activities increasing. There is still much, much more to do that will require equal effort from citizens.

It is important to remember that success and failure are absolutely going to be part of the path forward. That is to be expected, anticipated and embraced.

We have emphasized that this is a “new now.” The country shouldn’t be focused on going back to the way it was before the pandemic, and this certainly isn’t a “new normal.”

Take education, for example. Some say schools should remain closed and students should only be learning online until the pandemic passes. Others say throw the doors open and hope for herd immunity. Still others wring their hands about stops and starts and failures along the way. None of these represent the real solution. Each option is presented as part of a false choice, false success or false failure.

No solution will take the nation back to the way it once was. No solution will be free from setbacks or challenges. If a school opens and then has to close for a few days to recalibrate, so be it. Life, especially life in a pandemic, is an iterative process toward progress.

Labor Day marks the end of the 55-day challenge and the beginning of fall. All should mourn the loss of life, celebrate the great improvements and look with optimism toward the promising developments to combat COVID-19 on the horizon.

Maintaining vigilance is vital in this next phase, as is focusing much needed attention on reconnecting society and strengthening the connective tissue that binds neighborhoods and communities.

C.S. Lewis noted after World War II that while all people needed to be concerned with the proliferation of atomic or nuclear weapons, citizens also needed to connect and live. He wrote, “The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that), but they need not dominate our minds.”

Citizens embracing a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good for the 55-day moonshot challenge made a difference. The next frontier is to maintain the patterns of success while living positively in the “new now.” Together, everyone can make a difference.