CACHE COUNTY – Despite the recent spike in local cases of coronavirus, the members of the Cache County Council are ready to revolt against the state’s COVID-19 precautions.
With a single dissenting voice, the council voted June 9 to immediately request dropping Cache County to a Green/Normal threat level for the coronavirus.
That decision allies Cache County’s elected leaders with the legislature’s COVID-19 economic recovery commission in opposition to the opinions of state public health officials.
According to state officials, Gov. Gary Herbert’s statewide declaration of a Yellow/Low coronavirus threat level is due to expire in mid-June.
“With our recent spike in positive cases,” said Councilwoman Gina Worthen, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the governor sets the rest of the state to a Green level and leaves us at Yellow.”
The county council members will attempt to head off that possibility by sending a letter through Bear River Health Director Lloyd Berentzen to Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, the acting director of the State Board of Health. That letter will presumably argue that the unintended consequences of Utah’s coronavirus precautions are more damaging than the disease itself.
Worthen listed those consequences as economic uncertainty, widespread unemployment, suicide, mental illness, domestic violence, depression and anxiety, among others.
“I’m completely frustrated by our willingness to accept these consequences in an attempt to avoid catching a virus that has a one percent death rate,” Worthen argued. “I think that we’re going to look back on all this in the future and realize that we made a terrible mistake.”
With 36 new COVID-19 cases announced June 9, the Bear River Health District’s caseload nearly three months into the pandemic stands at 865 local residents infected. Only two of those patients have died and neither of them were actually present in the three-county district area when they passed away.
Worthen’s opinion is shared by the members of the Utah legislature’s advisory commission on economic recovery. That panel voted on May 29 to recommend that the state move into a “smart green” risk phase that would allow nearly all businesses in the state to reopen while continuing social distancing and other precautions, according to Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. The lawmakers’ suggestion was promptly discredited by the state’s public health experts.
Since that vote, Adams has tested positive for COVID-19. But he said that diagnosis hasn’t shaken his belief that Utah’s coronavirus shut-down needs to end.
“What concerns me,” said council member David L. Erickson, “is that we’ve given so much power to un-elected officials in the midst of this lock-down. I mean, we’re debating whether to ask the board of health for permission to live our lives the way we want to …
“There’s something more important than public health at risk here and that’s our ability to empower people. We need to give personal responsibility back to our citizens. They need to have the freedom to make decisions about their own lives. When we take that freedom away from them, that’s when you start to have problems with suicide, anxiety and depression.”
But council member Jon White suggested that it might be too early for Cache County to try to secede from the state’s coronavirus guidelines.
“Whether it was right or wrong originally, we’ve now put how much time into (living with the coronavirus restrictions)? Two months?” he asked. “In 14 days, the people who are now going into quarantine will be out again. Hopefully, the infection rates will be down by then.”
“I’m tired of being locked up and I’m tired of being told to be afraid,” council member Gorden Zilles countered. “I’m in the age group that’s most likely to die, but I’ve had a good life and I say let’s get on with it. That may sound like I’m being pretty casual about it, but that’s the way I feel.”
Council member Barbara Tidwell agreed that many people in the high-risk population are more than ready to resume their normal lives.
“I work with a lot of people in the high-risk category and they are the ones who seem to most want to get out,” she explained. “They’re not afraid of this disease, they’re just tired of it. I talked to one of them who is 83 and he wants to get out to be involved again … I believe a lot of people feel that way.”
The council members voted six-to-one, with White dissenting, to petition moving to a Green threat level and resuming near normal life with reasonable precautions.