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Cox announces members of transition team; says pandemic war is being lost in homes

(Spencer Cox, left, and current Utah governor, Gary Herbert, bump elbows during the press conference in the capitol's Gold Room. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News.)

SALT LAKE CITY – Education, government efficiency and the COVID-19 response. Governor-elect Spencer Cox said those will be some of his top priorities as he moves forward with his newly-announced members of his transition team. 

The official transfer of power will happen Jan. 4, and Cox expects current governor Gary Herbert to actively lead the state until his term ends. In the meantime, Cox announced some of the people who will assist in the transition between the two administrations.

First to be announced was Cox’s new chief of staff, Jon Pierpont, who was the former executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services.  Cox also named Jennifer Napier-Pearce, former executive editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, as his new senior adviser and director of communications.

Also named to several transition committees were former Utah 4th Congressional District Representative Mia Love, Salt Lake County Council Member Aimee Winder-Newton and former Utah Department of Commerce Director Francine Gianni.

Lieutenant Governor-elect Deidre Henderson said their administration will always keep education as their top focus. Plus, she said they plan to look at every department of state government to find ways they can increase productivity.

Another one of the biggest areas of focus will be containing the spread of COVID-19.  Utah set another one-day record Thursday, with 2,807 new confirmed cases and 389 hospitalizations.  Despite spiking number of cases, Henderson said she feels state government has done everything it can to contain it.

“I don’t believe that we have gone in the wrong direction, at all,” she said. 

Henderson contracted the virus earlier this year, and she said that experience shaped how she views the pandemic. 

“Physical distancing and mask wearing is so important,” Henderson said. “It’s not so much about protecting you from the virus.  It’s about protecting other people from you if you happen to have the virus and don’t realize it, yet.”

According to Cox, Utah isn’t losing the battle against the virus on the state level.  He said it’s happening at the family level, with people spreading the virus with others in their homes.  He said people are infecting their loved ones and that’s overwhelming the hospital system.

“This is crunch-time,” Cox said.  “The next two months are absolutely critical.  We are in a dire situation and we cannot emphasize that enough.”

Cox said he hopes to increase both rapid surveillance testing and asymptomatic testing.  He believes if health workers can conduct hundreds of thousands of those tests per week, the state could get ahead of the virus. 

He also expects to beef up contact tracing, and said there could be announcements about that in the near future.  Plus, there’s another item Utah needs to prepare for.

“One of the things we should be focusing on in January will be vaccine distribution,” Cox said. 

Cox said frontline workers and people in Utah’s vulnerable populations will get the vaccine first.