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Jelalian: Not releasing business names sows distrust in local government

By Matthew Jelalian - | May 9, 2020

There are now three new COVID-19 hotspots in Utah County.

According to news reports, the Orem hotspot is believed to stem from a birthday party attended by dozens. Provo’s spike is believed to come from an outbreak at a long-term care facility. The Payson hotspot was reportedly due to an employer demanding a person work while sick.

Additionally, a statement released by Utah County commissioners on Monday called out practices at two other Utah County businesses where employees were instructed by management to not follow quarantine guidelines and some were required to work even after testing positive for COVID-19.

In a Daily Herald article written by Connor Richards, Utah County Health Department Executive Director Ralph Clegg said his organization had not shut down any businesses for COVID-19, including the two unnamed businesses mentioned in the letter from county commissioners.

As of this writing, the Utah County Health Department is refusing to identify those businesses despite efforts by news organizations to obtain the information.

On top of all of this, KUTV quoted Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie as saying that it’s our job to keep ourselves safe.

“I would once again re-emphasize Thomas Jefferson’s reminder that it’s foolish to look to the government to provide our safety,” said Commissioner Ivie, as reported by KUTV. “It’s inherent upon us to act responsibly as individuals to provide that safety and protection.”

With all of this in mind, I’d like to make a few points regarding this story and how local officials refuse to release the names of the businesses that have contributed to the spike in COVID-19 numbers.

These thoughts are in no particular order:

First, refusing to release the names of the businesses hurts more people than just those businesses.

Imagine if there was a restaurant whose main cook had hepatitis. Instead of getting the treatment the cook needs, the cook is told that they have to come into work and do their job or get fired.

That’s literally what we have here, except it’s the coronavirus instead of hepatitis.

These companies have proven that they are more than willing to sacrifice the well-being of their employees for the bottom line. Shouldn’t a free market at least know who they are so people can have that information should they choose to apply for jobs there or to otherwise interact with the business and those who work there over the next several weeks?

If anything, doesn’t protecting these businesses hurt them in the long run, too?

How can you possibly keep afloat when more and more of your employees are getting sick? Certainly, if we’re not going to care about the employees and those who they interact with, we could care a little bit about the employer and the money they bring to the county by keeping their business healthy?

Second, refusing to release the names of the businesses hurts all businesses.

Utah’s strategy from the beginning was to issue recommendations and guidelines, but effectively enforce very little. I think the strategy is that people will more likely follow the rules when they can choose to than when they’re being forced to.

But that didn’t happen in this case.

And I know we are a bunch of liberty lovers in this state, but the fact is that spreading a deadly disease is not a private decision. It’s a public one.

How many other companies will do the same? Who can we trust?

Refusing to release the names of the companies involved means that individuals can’t choose whether to do business with them. We do not have good information, and therefore we cannot make good choices. In a way, protecting these businesses is inherently anti-free market because the free market can only work so long as people are working with good information.

It’s no more reasonable for me to demand COVID-19 tests from people than it is for the government to expect that they follow the rules or to invest in the health and safety of the community they do business in.

Third, refusing to release the names of the businesses creates distrust in local government.

Why should I trust any officials that are in power when I can’t even trust them to let me know who is possibly spreading communicable diseases in my neighborhood? Why should I vote for anyone in office when they respond with, “Well, that’s your responsibility, we can’t be trusted to do it”?

Fifth, refusing to release the names of the businesses sets the county back.

We get over this virus by eliminating it from our population. Part of that requires that we socially distance as to not overwhelm our medical infrastructure, and part of that implies that we learn enough about the disease to treat it.

Needlessly allowing companies to create new hotspots and refusing to share the names of those companies sets those efforts back in major ways.

Sixth, refusing to release the names of the businesses tells us that not all lives matter.

How can anyone honestly say that the employee’s life matters just as much as the employer’s life in this situation?

You can’t. We’re protecting one at the expense of the other.

All in all, it’s a shame that this happened, but it’s a bigger shame that we’re letting it continue without so much as naming who’s doing it.

Too bad shame doesn’t affect people in 2020.


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