Guest opinion: We must listen to the experts about Covid-19

Paul Gibbs 01

I’m not a doctor. I’m nothing resembling a doctor. Most of my medical knowledge comes a combination of M*A*S*H, ER and House, MD. And yet I feel I have a leg up on some of the Utah business and political figures pushing ideas and making decisions during this pandemic for the simple reason that I know I’m not a doctor and that means I should listen to doctors and other medical experts. 

Utah Policy recently ran a guest opinion from former Utah Senator Stuart Reid which argued that the only way to defeat Covid-19 is through herd immunity. Mr. Reid is no doubt very experienced and knowledgeable in the fields of real estate management and economic development, where his expertise lies. Taking a quick look at other information about his experience, it is clear that there are many areas in which his knowledge could be beneficial. However, it is equally clear that epidemiology and public health are not among these areas, and that he in fact has absolutely no relevant knowledge or experience which makes him qualified to speak on these issues. Before you ask if I do, I feel I already made it clear above that I don’t.  Which is why I’m not suggesting people listen to me, I’m suggesting they listen to medical authorities and experts.  And this does not mean cherry-picking and distorting the statements of experts the way Mr. Reid has done in his op-ed. To use the words of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who warned in late June that complete shut down may be necessary without a decrease in cases as an argument for opening further is irresponsible, and frankly dishonest. 

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic and other highly respected professionals have stated that achieving herd immunity with Covid-19 is highly problematic as we do not yet even know if those who recover from Covid-19 become immune to future infection.  The research to determine the likelihood or effects or reinfection hasn’t even been completed.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, has expressed concerns that anti-vaccination sentiment in the U.S. might dilute the effectiveness of an eventual vaccine in creating herd immunity.  However, one may doubt or question the knowledge of these experts, it’s a no brainer that they know considerably more about the spread of infectious disease than Mr. Reid or any of the business leaders who have been giving input into Utah’s decisions about pandemic response. As we get further into the summer Utah has seen rates of cases, hospitalization and death rise. To be blunt, there’s no evidence to suggest that reopening the economy is working, and it may be doing harm. 

The economic concerns regarding the pandemic are very real, and they are undeniably causing suffering that is equally real. But this will not be lessened by skirting the issue of public health. The virus caused economic issues, not the other way around.  To address the economic impact we must address the virus itself, and to do that effectively the only sensible approach is to give our attention and trust to medical experts. Our state’s hospitals and medical community have advocated for a mask mandate, yet we ignore them for purely political reasons. Dr. Dunn warns of the potential need to shut down and we talk about opening further. Our state fails to meet its own requirements for loosening restrictions and things are getting worse.

 It’s time for us to behave like responsible adults by listening to the experts instead of looking around for the advice we want to hear. We will not save Utah’s economy by exposing more people to a deadly virus because we’re listening to people who, frankly, don’t know what they’re talking about. 

Paul Gibbs is an independent filmmaker and healthcare activist from West Valley City. As a kidney transplant patient, he is a high risk for Covid-19.