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Gov. Cox’s COVID-19 response has been a success

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wears a mask with the Utah state flag during a COVID-19 briefing in April 2021.

Gov. Spencer Cox arrives for a briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 29, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, presiding over a state with one of the most successful COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in the nation, gave President Joe Biden a sound piece of advice last Tuesday.

The one thing the White House could do to help the situation, he said, “is modeling what a fully vaccinated person can do.”

We don’t know how influential that was in the announcement by federal officials, including the president, on Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or physically distance themselves while engaged in outdoor or indoor activities. But it was the right message and a credit to the governor and the state he represents to move the response to COVID-19 forward.

Those who took the civically responsible step of getting vaccinated have effectively protected themselves from the virus. Until now, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not allowed them to reflect that important decision in any outward way. They were required to mask up just like everyone else. Now, those who, for whatever reason, have not gotten a vaccine, can understand in stark terms the privileges it brings, even as it benefits society as a whole.

Clarity has been added to what had been an unclear situation.

Thankfully, this is a sign the pandemic, while still with us, can be mitigated by vaccination and good behavior.   

Normal human interactions are beginning to resume. But the history of disease eradication is not neat. Even with an effective vaccine, it took nearly 30 years to eradicate polio from the United States. But new cases became rare long before that, allowing public anxieties to subside. Measles has been even messier. It continues to flare on occasion, but the benefits of vaccination against it are clear.

COVID-19 may follow a similar pattern, although its disruptions to everyday life have far exceeded those associated with those other, primarily childhood diseases.

In Utah, about 57% of people 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and state officials reported earlier this week that 44.7% were fully vaccinated, meaning at least two weeks had passed since they received their last necessary dose.

A May poll by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics found 64% of registered voters in Utah said they had been vaccinated — a sample one would expect to exceed vaccinations in the general population.

Utah’s figures were similar to those of five other states whose governors were invited to share their strategies in a virtual meeting with the president. 

Cox made a smooth rollout of vaccines a priority for his young administration. By all indications, he has succeeded. His poll numbers reflect that. More importantly, the vaccination numbers reflect that. 

The latest Deseret News/Hinckley poll found the governor has a 65% overall approval rating, and a 66% rating in his handling of the pandemic. 

Add to that Utah’s strong economy — its unemployment rate was 2.9% in March and the American Legislative Exchange Council just ranked the state as having the best economic outlook in the nation for the 14th year in a row.

That isn’t all the new governor’s doing, of course, but the positive way in which vaccines have been made available, including to traditionally underserved populations, has marked a good start to his administration.