Some rural lawmakers say the state is overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak

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18 rural Utah lawmakers sent a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox that essentially accused them of overreacting to the threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak and warning of irreparable harm to the state’s economy.

The letter says the response from state government to the outbreak is not proportional to the danger presented from the virus.

“As of yesterday (Monday), the total deaths attributed to the virus stands at ninety. Not nine hundred, not nine thousand. Ninety. This number is sure to rise in the near future but we need to keep our wits about us,” reads the letter. 

The missive was signed by 17 county commissioners and State Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding. Lyman gained notoriety during the just-completed 2020 Utah legislative session by introducing a measure to censure Sen. Mitt Romney following his vote to impeach President Donald Trump on charges he abused his power during the Ukraine scandal.

As of Wednesday night, there are nearly 9,350 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the U.S. and 150 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking website. 66 cases have been confirmed in Utah as of Wednesday.

In response to the outbreak, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a two-week “soft closure” of public schools. The state has also ordered restaurants to suspend dine-in services for two weeks to help prevent the spread of the virus. Colleges and Universities in Utah have all canceled in-person classes, moving to online-instruction. 

Last week, both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County banned gatherings of more than 50 people to slow down the community transmission of the virus.

Those measures are similar to efforts taken by other states and even countries to control the spread of the virus. Italy has ordered a near-total lockdown. The 26 countries in the European Union have closed their borders to nearly all outside travel and the U.S. and Canada announced they would mutually close their borders to stop the spread.

The 18 signators of the letter suggest those preventative steps will do little to mitigate the pandemic, as they believe the virus is following the traditional lifespan of any respiratory virus outbreak, which they say usually peaks in February and March, then taper off as the weather gets warmer.

“The irony is, that as we frantically push for more viral tests to be performed, we give the illusion that the steep incline of confirmed cases represents the actual slope of the spread of the virus. This confirmation bias leads to elevated panic, quarantine, and irreparable economic damage,” they wrote.

President Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus a national emergency. Congress is considering a massive fiscal stimulus package that could cost upwards of $1 trillion, which would include cash payments to Americans based on their income levels and family size.

The letter from the rural lawmakers pulled no punches about the damage they see coming to Utah if the state continues down the current path.

“We ask you to discontinue this path of destruction that has already proven to be devastating to our state and nation,” they wrote.

Calls and emails to several of the elected officials who signed the letter seeking comment were not returned. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.