USHE, Governor’s Office holds COVID-19 press conference 02

Wendell Hellewell, of Orem, loads eggs into his car at Costco in Orem on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

We wrote last week about taking sensible precautions to prepare for the coronavirus, but things suddenly snapped into focus four days ago as Utah and the rest of the nation began to feel the impact of a disease that the World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic.

As we all adjust to this new reality of social distancing, increased cleanliness and no large gatherings — including nearly all sporting events, church services, and school and college classes — many of our local and state officials deserve praise for working to stay ahead of the disease and taking precautions to help stem the virus’s spread. They’re providing steady and wise leadership during a constantly shifting national and international crisis. By comparison, the response from the federal government, starting with President Donald Trump, has been often delayed, inconsistent and, in some cases, unhelpful or even detrimental to the public.

Although there have been a handful of cases of COVID-19 in Utah before Wednesday and officials were taking initial steps to address the situation, the crisis hit home with hurricane force when the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the disease just before a game. That prompted the NBA to suspend its season and led to an avalanche of other sports leagues, major and minor, postponing or canceling events, including the wildly popular March Madness college basketball tournament.

In Utah County and across the state, officials have taken steps to limit large gatherings of more than 100 people to staunch the spread of the virus. On Friday, this was expanded to include a “soft closure” of public schools for two weeks, although school districts will be able to maintain services like support for students with disabilities, meals and tutoring.

Our hearts go out to those who will be inconvenienced by these changes. Many student-athletes will either have their seasons delayed or canceled altogether. Parents and caregivers will be scrambling to care for their children staying home from school. College students will have to adjust to learning remotely instead of being able to collaborate in person. Employees and employers alike will need to adjust to the possibility of working from home or staying away from the office if they’re showing symptoms.

As we turn away from public spaces, we would encourage readers to find a safe way to support local businesses who will be put off by these precautionary measures.

Over the next few weeks, many people will be paying a high cost in terms of money or inconvenience, but the alternative is far worse — increasing exposure of the disease to our elderly and more vulnerable residents and increasing the likelihood of overwhelming our health care system to care for the sick. Washing our hands and following other simple steps seems like a fair price to pay to help save lives.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert said, “It’s better to be too early than to be too late. We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

Our state and local officials recognize the truth behind the adage that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If only our federal leadership came to this realization sooner.

For weeks, President Trump and others in the executive branch downplayed the seriousness of the crisis in the U.S., claiming that it was only a handful of cases that would quickly go away. They’ve overpromised and underdelivered the availability of tests to help assess the scope of the contagion. The Trump administration has also repeatedly hobbled our ability to respond to pandemics by either cutting staff or seeking budget cuts to our health care infrastructure. They’ve also denied responsibility for their actions and falsely tried to shift the blame to others.

After Wednesday, the president appeared to be taking the crisis more seriously but initially focused on restricting international travel when the disease is already spreading within our borders and seeking economic relief that didn’t appear likely to help those that most need it. Until Saturday, Trump refused to get tested despite the fact that he appears to have been near people that later tested positive for COVID-19.

Although the administration has been inconsistent in its response, we laud the White House for taking more definitive steps Friday, including declaring a national emergency and working with House Democrats on a series of measures to help alleviate the crisis.

We face weeks or months before the tide of this crisis ebbs. We’re going to need the support and cooperation of all, from individual families to businesses and government officials, to blunt the force of this epidemic. However, we know that Americans are capable of rising to the occasion.