5 Things Utah: Series: “The Special Session”

It’s ok to feel sad right now. It’s ok to feel less productive than you would normally expect. We have to give ourselves all a little grace right now, and guard against the negative self-talk that can take us down.

It’s not that we’re working from home right now. We’re at home, trying to work. That’s different. So that you know you’re not alone in this, I recommend this short video for perspective. I think it conveys it all.





With help from Michael Goldberg

1. COVID numbers in some perspective

It is a historic failure of our collective ability as Americans to have forestalled the spread of COVID. By the end of the day Monday, the US will likely hit over 1m confirmed COVID cases, about a third of all cases on the planet. Given poor testing, that is likely a significant undercount, with studies suggesting 2-15% of the total population of a given region may have been infected.

Utah ranks 30th in population and 30th among confirmed COVID cases, with 3,612 cases. The Rt, or effective reproduction rate, remains steadily above 1, suggesting the virus is still spreading and isn’t yet on a path to extinction in the state. The attempt to roll out a contact tracing app may help give us more data, if it’s utilized widely among Utahns. I’m skeptical that will be the case, but we’ll see.

2. Series: Health policy in the special session

During COVID, we have asked our health system to turn operating suites into negative pressure ICUs, to cover all costs related to COVID testing, and to endure the financial peril of collapsing consumer demand. If we want a health system that is agile and resilent, we need a financing model that is prospective, predictable and doesn’t penalize providers financially for doing the right thing for the community. That’s the pre-COVID system.

So, in this continuing series titled “The Special Session,” we explore ideas for a post-COVID health system and how policy makers might support a new model for care. These are “think pieces” to support your creative brainstorming, not advocacy positions. Current stories include reinsurance, funding and executing a serological study, and reconsidering hospital and community funding models.

If you have other ideas for health policy in a post-COVID world, I’d love to have you share them.


3. Medicaid expansion in the age of COVID-19

Not long after rolling out a long-awaited full expansion of Medicaid on January 1st, 2020, COVID-19 hit. Utah found itself administering the newly expanded Medicaid program under radically different conditions than originally anticipated. The state saw a 46% increase in applications for Medicaid in March.

Despite the surge in applications, the numbers do not yet reflect an equal surge in enrollment. The state has not reached the 70,000-90,000 individuals who were estimated to be eligible for the program when expansion was given the green light, which analysts attribute to a lack of outreach. Reporter Michael Goldberg took a look at the recent history of Medicaid expansion in Utah and asked policy analysts to weigh in on how the state might shore up enrollment while balancing the budget in the age of COVID-19.


4. “Dispatch from Seattle”

The Seattle area had the first outbreak of COVID, and was the first epicenter of the disease. That has now shifted to New York while Washington State has fallen from first among state outbreaks to fifteenth. I actually live in the Seattle area with my wife and three kids, and have been writing an occasional column about life from the inside of an epicenter.

Because Puget Sound is about 2-3 weeks ahead of Utah in terms of the disease’s spread, some of these thoughts from a few weeks ago may have some saliency for you now. This one discusses the progress my uncle has made while intubated for four weeks. Another talks about societal changes we experience in a time of COVID, like building a “virus family.” The most read one, however, is on managing one’s mental health as we work through the process of dealing with COVID.

5. Country and state conventions press on virtually

Party county conventions were held last weekend ahead of the upcoming state convention this Saturday.  Due to the outbreak, conventions were held virtually with delegates watching pre-recorded candidate videos and casting ranked-choice ballots via an app or online. To secure the party’s nomination outright, candidates must earn 60% of delegate votes; otherwise, the top two finishers advance to the June 30 primary.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, a group of candidates, including Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, have already qualified for the ballot by gathering voter signatures. The remaining candidates, including former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, are only competing at the convention. Republicans began early-voting via an app on Thursday and continue today. Democrats will be voting online on Saturday only.