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Salt Lake County mayor says she’s optimistic county will rebound from pandemic

The county is home to more than 1⁄3 of state’s population

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Talysa Sainz, a substitute customer service specialist, and Vanessa Lindquist,a customer service specialist, walk through the Create Space in the Salt Lake County Library’s Kearns branch on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Create Spaces reflect a new model more akin to community gathering places that provide crafts and technology.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson says she’s optimistic that families and businesses in the state’s most populous county can work together to recover from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The good news is for every case of COVID-19 occurring here in Salt Lake County there are hundreds of vaccines now being administered,” the first-term mayor said in her annual State of the County address, delivered in a prerecorded video released Thursday. “I can with confidence say that we are approaching the end of what has been one of the most challenging times for many of us.”

Her county, the state’s economic and cultural hub, is home to 1.16 million people, more than a third of the state’s population.

Wilson said that in spite of “all of the optimism I have for 2021, I continue to be humbled and saddened by the loss of life and damage done over the past year,” noting thousands of families lost loved ones to the virus. She said she hopes the county can now be more compassionate than ever.

Wilson, a Democrat, said while the county’s economy remains strong, its tourism and hospitality industries have been “clobbered” in the pandemic, leaving many small county businesses struggling.

She noted the so-called pink recession has hit women the hardest, not least because they tend to work in health care, hospitality and teaching jobs — with many also caring for kids at home.

One positive effect of the pandemic, Wilson said, is that it has helped renew many Utahns’ appreciation for the outdoors as they have trekked into the canyons for a reprieve. The county’s parks, golf courses and other outdoor amenities saw record numbers of visitors this year.

But dangers of the backcountry have also proven to be tragic, as with the four deaths of skiers who perished in a Millcreek Canyon avalanche earlier this month.

“Salt Lake County remains committed to recreation and preservation, whether it be providing funding for trail maintenance or bathrooms up the canyon, finding transportation solutions, or building and operating state-of-the-art recreation centers,” Wilson said.

Those centers include a new Draper site with two pools and a fieldhouse that will be able to welcome more for group classes and individual workouts as the pandemic wanes.

A new library in Kearns, meantime, is reflecting a new model more akin to community gathering places that provide crafts, technology and a sense of community, in addition to books.

Wilson noted the county’s economy has long been considered strong on a national level, a trait she said will help it rebound from the fallout of the virus as doses of the vaccine make their way to more residents.

Mobile health centers have begun vaccinating older Utahns and those in medical professions, with larger-scale clinics preparing to give more residents their shots, part of a developing system that will help the county even after the pandemic, she said.

“Salt Lake County is dedicated to providing vaccines to those who would otherwise be left behind like the underserved, those with language barriers, technology barriers, and other challenges,” Wilson said.

While the pandemic has drawn attention away from long-term issues like homelessness, affordable housing, those issues are still top of mind, Wilson said.

She called air quality “perhaps the biggest challenge,” saying a smart approach to growth and development is needed, including more transit options and incentives to work from home so that residents can do their part.