Protecting Lives and Livelihoods During COVID-19

The oft-repeated mantra of Utah state government during this pandemic revolves around “protecting lives and livelihoods.” Utahns will have undoubtedly heard some iteration of this phrase spoken in press conferences, included in data releases, and posted across social media. But what does it actually mean? 

As the state works to limit the spread of coronavirus, the foremost goal is to prevent the unnecessary loss of life. Even a single preventable death represents something we could have done better, and we mourn with those who have lost loved ones. Of course, disease and death are a part of a human experience filled with risk. But when we are facing a novel and contagious virus and waiting for a reliable vaccine, it is incumbent upon the government to mitigate this risk for its citizens. 

Here, Utah has done better than most states. According to nationwide data, Utah has one of the lowest mortality rates in the nation at 0.8% deaths per positive test (as of 08/23/20). While a myriad of variables play a role in this number, several important factors have been identified:

  • Young Population: Utah has the lowest share of people 65 and older in the nation.
  • Overall Health: According to the United Health Foundation, Utah ranked 5th in the nation for overall health. This ranking came in part due to the state having the lowest prevalence of diabetes, drinking, and smoking. 
  • Access to Healthcare: Gaps certainly do exist within Utah’s healthcare system, but by and large Utahns have access to world-class clinical systems to receive treatment.
  • Testing Effectiveness: Based on the University of Utah Seroprevalence study, for every one case of COVID-19 in Utah, only 2.4 cases go undetected. This is lower than case count ratios reported in community seroprevalence studies conducted in other states.

Though this list is not exhaustive, it helps illustrate why Utah has made such impressive progress in safeguarding lives. But we are far from declaring victory over this awful virus. One death is far too many, and we must all recommit to actions that slow the spread. 

The other key ingredient to Utah’s coronavirus strategy is protecting livelihoods. Prior to the pandemic, Utah was recognized as one of the top states for economic outlook. Through 2019, Utah had also posted an unemployment rate of just 2.7 percent and was seen as the gold standard for prudent fiscal management. 

With the onset of the pandemic, many of these accolades were thrown into flux as economies across the world saw immense changes. Utah was no exception and experienced climbing unemployment numbers through the spring. But this trend has quickly been reversing, and in July Utah saw its third consecutive month of declining unemployment. Additionally, Utah’s July unemployment rate of 4.5 percent was the lowest in the nation. This is compared to a 10.2 percent jobless rate for the rest of the nation in July. Though many Utahns are still in need of employment, our economy is clearly beginning to rebound with vigor. 

Some have decried efforts to focus on both lives and livelihoods as putting the economy over health and safety. After all, jobs come and go but life does not. However, Utah is proving these goals are not mutually exclusive realities. Governor Herbert firmly believes that our response to the virus can maximize our capability to keep those at risk safe while simultaneously ensuring employment remains stable. On both fronts—limiting mortality rates and reducing unemployment—Utah is one of the leading states in the country.

But we aren’t finished. Together, we can redouble our efforts. With a continued focus on mask-wearing, proper hand hygiene, and social distancing when appropriate, even greater advancements can be made. Governor Herbert’s ultimate goal is to prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens while bringing back jobs, and he is confident we can continue to lead out on this effort.