Democrat demands investigation of coronavirus spending

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson has charged that Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spenser Cox failed to protect both public health and public funds while mismanaging Utah's coronavirus response.

SALT LAKE CITY – In the wake of a negative audit released by state officials Sept. 30, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson has launched an all-out attack on Utah’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The United States has had the most chaotic and inefficient coronavirus response of any industrial nation,” Peterson charged during a Monday press conference on the steps of the Utah Capitol. “And now, Utah is unequivocally one of the worst hotspots for COVID-19 in America.

“After eight months of ineffective leadership, it is time for the public to recognize that the current administration is failing in its response to the pandemic.”

Peterson argued that Utah’s COVID-19 statistics prove that Gov. Gary Herbert and his political rival Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox have failed to protect the state’s public health.

To substantiate that charge, he cited the state Health Department’s report that Utah recorded 1,387 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the second highest number of cases ever reported statewide. That record continued the state’s rolling seven-day average of 1,000 cases per day, resulting in a nearly 20 percent increase in infections from since mid-September.

“Utah’s rolling seven-day average is now double Gov. Herbert’s target goal of 500 cases per day,” Peterson noted. “And Utah has a 14.1 percent positivity rate in coronavirus testing. Public health experts estimate that a positive rate of testing below 3 percent is necessary for progress toward a suppression level.”

Additionally, the Democratic candidate emphasized the preliminary study by State Auditor John Dougall proved that Herbert and

Cox mismanaged public funds while overseeing the state’s coronavirus response.

That report stated that the governor and lieutenant governor had a close relationship with the member companies of Silicon Slopes, a non-profit group representing Utah’s start-ups and high-tech enterprises.

“This causes particular concerns,” the audit stated, “when contracts are steered to those companies, especially at the approval of the governor.”

Those contracts included ill-advised purchases and controversial no-bid contracts initiated by Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

“I am especially concerned that the state is still, today, paying fees for a cell phone contact tracing software that does not work,” Peterson said. “Every day, taxpayers are paying $10,000 to friends of the governor and lieutenant governor with no plan to stop the bleeding.”

“Our current COVID response is a failure,” the Democratic candidate concluded. “If I am elected governor, I will protect Utahns and their businesses from the coronavirus.”

To do that, Peterson released an 11-point plan to restore that state’s public health.

That plan incorporated his previous recommendations for a statewide mask mandate, increasing the speed and accuracy of COVID-19 testing, ensuring adequate contact tracing and increasing the availability of personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

Additional elements of Peterson’s plan are increasing the relevance and transparency of the state coronavirus website; providing incentives to businesses and individuals to comply with public health guidance; providing additional COVID-19 guidance and oversight to public school districts; and developing and enforcing coronavirus compliance guidelines for bars, restaurant and other public meeting places.

To address the financial mismanagement revealed by the state audit, Peterson also called for a civil investigation of the state’s coronavirus response to identify tax dollars that could be lawfully recovered; a legislative review of all documents, emails and purchasing records of the state’s COVID-19 task force; and a demand for a revised conflict of interest disclosure statement covering all political contributions to the Cox campaign.

“The Cox-Herbert administration’s stewardship of taxpayer resources is unacceptable,” Peterson said. “If I am elected governor, I will do everything in my power to protect taxpayer funds with integrity and transparency.”

Peterson and Cox will compete to replace the outgoing Gov. Herbert in the general election balloting on Nov. 3.

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