July 23, 2020
Utah’s founders left behind homes, property and even the countries in which they held citizenship – often driven away under threat of violence – in pursuit of the dream of freedom. They eventually experienced that freedom in the land that is now Utah, in part by learning an entirely new way of life that required them to farm, build and thrive in a desert.
What Utah’s pioneers endured, and how they endured it, is still a critical example for us today. We may be facing a global pandemic, dramatic economic swings and significant changes at work and at home, but we can maintain the same optimism and positivity that they did so many years ago.
Good news on COVID-19 front
After a several-week surge in new COVID cases, state public health officials noted in recent days that “[Utah’s] hospitalization rate has been decreasing” and that there is “evidence of a plateau followed by a decrease in total statewide cases every day.” While these numbers tend to follow trends, they can also swing significantly in a matter of days, so there is no certainty that this encouraging evidence is a real downward trend. Still, even the possibility of a plateau or decline in new cases is a reason for optimism.
There is also promising news regarding a possible COVID vaccine. Multiple vaccine candidates have generated a positive immune response in initial human trials, and the federal government has begun a program to secure 300 million doses of COVID vaccine, once they are proven to be safe and effective. One vaccine generated both “a robust neutralizing antibody response” as well as “proinflammatory T cell response” which means the vaccine could potentially generate a broad immunity to COVID-19. Several vaccine manufacturers have also told Congress that they plan to produce and sell the COVID vaccine on a not-for-profit basis, so that it is affordable for the largest number of people worldwide. This good news on vaccines sent stock markets to pre-pandemic highs, suggesting a positive economic outlook should the vaccine(s) continue to prove safe and effective in broader human trials.
We can also be optimistic with recent results from new tests of COVID-19 treatments. One study of a new COVID drug reported that it reduced the risk of severe disease by 79% compared to patients taking a placebo. Studies of two different treatments for COVID-19 – one a steroid drug, the other a plasma transfusion – found significant decreases in the mortality of treated patients. Additionally, scientific understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 may be starting to arrive at a consensus on how the disease spreads and therefore the best things the public can do to prevent its spread – potentially elevating the issue above electoral politics by grounding it in real-world evidence.
Changing our life to preserve our freedom
One thing illustrated by the pandemic – which Utah’s founders learned through their own experience – is that maintaining our rights sometimes requires assuming the responsibility to adapt the way we live for the sake of our freedom. That may involve learning to work remotely in order to enjoy the freedom that comes from the right to work. It may require struggling through schooling at home so our children can enjoy the freedom that comes from the right to a basic education. Or it may mean social distancing in order to enjoy freedom to exercise the right to associate with friends and loved ones.
We rightly struggle through some of these questions of rights and responsibilities – masks in public being a case in point. But as we debate the merits of encouraging voluntary mask wearing versus a mandate, we can and should look to the example of past Utahns for guidance to our thinking.
The lives of so many of Utah’s pioneers are a testament that sometimes maintaining our freedom and enjoying our rights requires uncomfortable sacrifices and life changes for us all. As we celebrate and honor the sacrifices made on our behalf, let’s choose – like they did – to be optimistic in the face of hardship.
Caring for children and families in vulnerable situations is an undoubted public priority, and everyone willing to provide good-faith help is needed.
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”