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Gov. Gary Herbert joins KUTV on 2News to discuss COVID-19, Utah's economy and more

gov gary herbert interview - mike stephen (1).jpg
Gov. Gary Herbert sits down with Heidi Hatch and Mark Koelbel for a live interview on 2News at 6 p.m. on August 12, 2020. (Photo: Mike Stephen / KUTV)

It's been a whirlwind five months as the state, the nation, and the world faces the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Gary Herbert sat down with 2News on Wednesday night to talk about how COVID-19 will continue to impact the lives of Utahns as we learn to live the "new normal" and try to flatten the curve.

2News viewers were able to submit questions to ask the governor, some of which will be asked during the broadcast.

The governor will first give some opening thoughts. The first questions will be about education and returning to schools safely amid the pandemic.

More questions may be answered if time permits. Ask your question in the comments of our Facebook live stream here.

Questions and Answers

(Disclaimer: Answers are approximate and were recorded as they were given. Watch the full interview for the complete responses from the governor.)

Education

Q: A Georgia school shut down in its second week back after nine students and teachers tested positive for COVID-19. If we see a similar scenario in Utah, will our schools shut down?

A: We've come up with a way to mitigate as much as we can.

Q: Who will make the decision whether a school should shut down?

A: Ultimately, the local health department will decide. That's how it's designed to be. Again, I expect we are going to have some outbreaks ... but if everybody plays by the rules and does their best, we can ... have a successful school year. By the way, we've given significant options to parents. We want our teachers to have that, also.

(Herbert says the plans may not be perfect but are something we can all feel good about.)

Q: As we go through the school year, is there going to be an effort by the state to get more nurses in school?

A: Teachers will be the first line of defense. ... There's not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach here. We have 41 different school districts and 41 different plans. I think what we've done is common sense.

There's no such thing as zero risk. If people are waiting for that to happen, it's not going to happen. We've worked very diligently with (schools, teachers, parents) and so we're going to try it, and hopefully, it's going to work well.

Q: Do you have an idea on the sate level how many students are going to be online and how many are going back to the classroom?

A: I think probably 75% plus want to be back in school.

Q: Are there deficiencies in online learning?

A: I think not everybody learns that way. We need to respect those differences. ... Again, we've found with the online learning that there was some lacks of learning. We need to accommodate everybody as best we can with their own unique circumstances as chosen by the parents.

Viewer question — Douglas Smith: Why were your decisions early on so bold and a show you cared about life, but now it's been proven that you began and still choose to risk lives, especially those of our children and teachers, for the economy?

A: I understand the argument. There is a health problem if we don't have school. Just staying inside and locking our doors and wringing our hands does not do us good mentally. It's not only about healthcare, it's also about not closing down the economy, either. It's a balanced approach. ... We've found a way to kind of have that appropriate balance. Our mortality rate in Utah is less than 1%. ... The economy is doing pretty well, too.

Viewer question — Dawn Adams Wheeler: Why are children whose parents want to continue homeschooling being penalized? Why are they only given a shortlist of classes they can take online? Why are they being threatened with losing their earned AP credits?

A: I don't know about that issue. She needs to talk to her superintendent and the local school board. If there's something that we're missing there, talk to them, we're more than happy to make sure everyone is treated fair and equitable across the board.

Economy

Q: When you talk about livelihood ... are there things that you're talking about on a state level to make sure that people can stay in business?

A: They're trying to do a number of things. We've postponed payroll taxes, for example. We've helped with the PPP funds. We've done a lot of work to help keep them afloat. We've been not as restrictive as many states. We let the market continue to do what the market does — good, bad, or ugly. That means we've had an easier time opening up. That's why the unemployment rate is so low today.

Viewer question — Ethan Miller: When will he take action to support suffering service industry and small local manufacturers, like distilleries and breweries? The folks in these industries are suffering extensively.

A: The tourism and travel, hospitality industry have been the hardest hit. Bars, again, we have many states that bars are just closed. That seems to be a hot spot, people don't follow the physical distancing. ... We would recommend to retailers, or whatever the services you're providing, you need to make sure that your environment is safe. Do what you need to do to make sure your environment is safe for people (and the customers will come back).

Viewer question — Facebook live: How, as a parent, do I ultimately have a choice when I work a full-time job and my wife is a teacher?

A: For some families, it's not fair. There's no easy answer to that. Our workforce services have programs, some of our faith-based organizations can help. Work with the school ... which may have programs to help mitigate.

Legacy

A: We've had really, a pretty good run. 2020 might be the year that's unforgettable, though we'd like to forget it, but the previous 10, 11 years have been very successful. We've become the best-performing economy in America, with a record unemployment rate at 2.3%. We've improved on environmental issues and reduced pollution by a third. Infrastructure ... water development for future opportunities. Education's gone from really bad to top 10. Issue after issue after issue we've made significant positive strides, so I'm very pleased with what we've been able to do. But I'll tell you, it's not because of the remarkable governor we have, it really is because of the remarkable people we have. ... I thank the people for a good run.

Q: You're on call 24/7, and I'm sure the weight of this job is a lot. We all think about our own families or our work families, but you're thinking about the entire state. You can't make everyone happy, especially during a pandemic. Does this weigh on you, and how do you make these decisions?

A: Well, I've got a good staff. I'm smart enough to know that I don't know everything and I need to find experts in different areas. When we have tough issues that come up, we get together, we dump it on the table, we talk about the options, and then we make some decisions and move ahead. It's worked very well.