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Gov. Herbert stands by the state’s COVID-19 response one year later

(Gov. Gary Herbert speaking at his monthly news conference with PBS at the Utah State Capitol. Credit, Laura Seitz, Deseret News, October 22, 2020)

SALT LAKE CITY – Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.  Former Governor Gary Herbert is reflecting on the state’s response to the disease, saying some of his decisions were made in haste, but he believes they were the right decisions to make with what we knew at the time.  

The bird flu, the swine flu, SARS – we’ve heard about possible pandemics in the past, but none of those materialized in a significant way.  Some people who spoke with KSL say they couldn’t imagine COVID-19 would spread as quickly and be as dangerous as it became.  One woman was supposed to start flight attendant training in Utah, but travel shut down.

She said, “They sent everybody home, back to their respective states all across the United States.  That’ pretty much, let us know that this was something that was extremely serious.”

Another woman was in town for a workshop for her company, however, those classes were called off.

“I didn’t know what COVID was.  I had never heard of it.  I didn’t know anything about it but I didn’t think it was safe to be around that many people,” she said.  “The company I work for, they’re in Arizona, canceled all of their workshops all over the country.”

COVID-19 one year later

Former Governor Herbert was also surprised to see how swiftly the virus reached the state.  There were already some confirmed cases in Utah when it was declared a pandemic, but Herbert says Utah was more insulated than other states.

“We had some advantage by watching the others surrounding us wade through it and learn from their situations, and maybe their mistakes,” he said.

Herbert says no state really had any time to truly prepare for the virus, and there was a mad scramble to get what was needed to keep people safe.  There was a finite amount of personal protective equipment and states were competing to get it.

“It was really ‘all hands on deck.’  Literally, people were working 24 hours around the clock trying to find out what we needed to do to get PPEs,” Herbert said.

One thing the state hurried to secure was doses of the malaria medication hydroxychloroquine, which had been touted by some doctors and patients and the president as an effective way to ease the early symptoms of COVID-19.  The state eventually canceled their order, but Herbert says high-ranking health officials told him securing the medication would be a good idea.

He says, “I talked to the head of the FDA.  He’s a doctor, so I asked him about it and he said, ‘I think it can help people during the early stages of the pandemic.’  That’s after some people were putting it down.”

Herbert says it was difficult for health officials to know exactly what they should recommend, at first, since they were getting conflicting information about the disease.

“We really don’t know much about it, even today.  We still lack a lot of information on what is COVID-19 and how can it react so differently to different people, from mild symptoms to no symptoms and death,” he said.

Looking back, Herbert admits some decisions he made were done so hastily, but, he believes he would make the same decisions with the information they had at the time. 

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Get vaccinated.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States


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