I’d like to thank the Southeast Utah Health Department and Moab Regional Hospital for their brave and bold action this past March. The Stay Safe, Stay Home directive was extremely effective in protecting Grand County residents from the spread of COVID-19. Because of them, we only have 2 cases in town instead of 1,000. Their swift response also bought us time and testing capabilities.
Yet, even after all of this, COVID-19 is leaving the medical community with more questions than answers. And as other states extend their stay-at-home orders, Moab is preparing to open her doors to tourists once again. But everyone here needs to know that we’re not ready to open, and here’s why:
Our State Senate just passed Bill 3004, which orders all of Utah to a “less urgent response” level. It’s a bill that removes the power from our local health district office to make decisions for their own community. This should leave all of us with more questions than answers. On one hand, we have MRH chief medical officer, Dr. Dylan Cole, telling us their resources remain limited and the hospital could be quickly overwhelmed if Moab sees a significant surge in patients. On the other hand, we have SEUHD health officer, Brandon Bradford, speaking positively about using Salt Lake City or Grand Junction hospitals for overflow of patients, which is not a responsible response. Then he continues on about his hopes to “introduce” the disease into our community in such a way as to protect our most vulnerable population when we have yet to discover who our most vulnerable are: it could be the 30-year-old marathon runner who has a particular type of enzyme in his/her blood.
Bradford assures us that COVID-19 can be “controlled.” Yet, he talks about the riskiness of “choke points” (places like public restrooms and entrances to buildings) and doesn’t give us guidelines for how to deal with them. Moab is a major tourist destination with one main grocery store that everyone funnels through. Let’s face it. Most of downtown is a choke point, not to mention the National Park Service visitor centers. I don’t want to be Chicken Little here, but the SEUHD office needs to have a more thorough plan in place before reopening Moab. Let’s start with choke points and then move on to face masks (because I’m not envisioning many tourists toting face masks either).
Everyone is talking numbers these days. Let’s not forget that those numbers have names, faces, families and pets. Who will be the first casualty of Bill 3004? The economic hardships we’re facing are very real and all of us are affected, myself and my family included. But as Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said, “You can’t have a livelihood without a life. We can revive our economy. We can’t revive the people that are lost to this virus.”
I implore SEUHD and Moab Regional Hospital to help convince the Utah Senate to take Moab’s unique situation into account and press the pause button until there is a workable plan in place for our community. Returning to ‘normalcy’ is not a one size fits all.
There’s a phrase that’s been making the rounds lately which goes something like this: “In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted but it will be very clear if we underreact.”