From day one of the pandemic, Utahns worked to balance the two imperatives of health and the economy. Those decisions, whether by governments, businesses, communities or families, were made with the goal of saving lives and livelihoods. We rejected the notion that health and the economy are mutually exclusive, and understood that they are in truth mutually supportive.
That is not to say that each decision and the overall response has been perfect. No journey into the unknown ever is. But entering the uncharted territory of this pandemic began with sound principles and a willingness to make course corrections along the way. Of course, the journey is far from over and further adjustments will undoubtedly be needed, but having one of the nation’s lowest COVID-19 mortality rates and one of the lowest unemployment rates indicates some measure of success.
Part of this success can be attributed to the recognition that slowing the spread was necessary to both personal heath and economic health. Utahns understand the most important thing to helping the economy has very little to do with traditional economics, and has everything to do with combating the coronavirus.
In that continued fight, the most important battlefield is vaccine distribution. There is simply nothing that matters more right now than optimal execution of a well-thought-out plan for vaccinations.
Just over 100 years ago, the end of the Spanish flu pandemic was met with jubilant public celebration. It may be hard to imagine marching in a parade down Main Street in Salt Lake or Scipio while infection rates are still dangerously high, new virus variants are emerging, and people are still dying (underscoring that we must be more vigilant than ever to limit virus spread by wearing masks, social distancing and practicing hygiene).
Still, we should all feel relief, if not euphoria, that vaccinations are happening today, right now. It is not an overstatement that the quick development, ramped up production, and high effective rate is a modern medical miracle.
One important path to victory in vaccine distribution is a renewed public-private partnership. A similar partnership at the beginning of the pandemic, between government health workers and industry experts, led to the development of standards and best practices for keeping employees and customers safe while keeping our economy open. It spawned innovation from companies that brought online thousands of needed testing kits and PPE. The partnership between government and business also helped Utah take the No. 1 spot for PPP loans to save small businesses.
In this current phase, government must once again work closely with the business community in vaccine prioritization and distribution to quickly protect our critical infrastructure and essential services workforce, thereby protecting the state’s fledgling economic recovery. The private sector can also help the government by building confidence in the vaccine, through the trusted relationship between employers and employees, and that confidence from the private sector must be met with capacity and competence from the public sector in efficient vaccine distribution.
With the vaccine, the end of the pandemic is in sight. We can see light at the end of the tunnel, but we must march towards it. Ending the pandemic and returning to the normalcy we all crave will require once again our collective best efforts. No accomplishment during this pandemic came by accident. They came as all success does, through focus, hard work and moving forward together.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.