LEHI — Utah tech leaders shared their concerns on a conference call with Sen. Mitt Romney, Rep. John Curtis, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and others Thursday, including their disappointment with some of the decisions announced by the state in a press event earlier in the day.
Romney agreed that on some points, a more aggressive approach may be warranted.
Jeremy Hanks, founder and chairman of Lehi-based supply chain software innovator Dsco, said he believed in spite of data shared by the state in a televised news conference hosted by Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday, that COVID-19 is being spread locally and felt the state should be taking stronger measures.
“I think we have community spread here, and probably quite a bit,” Hanks said. “I don’t think we can make the statement that we don’t have it in our schools when we’ve tested so few people.
“My thought is if we have the legal ability to do it, we should shut down schools.”
Hanks also noted his company stood ready to do what it could to help take measures to keep his employees and community members safe, including sharing accurate information.
“How can Silicon Slopes be a source of consistent information?” Hanks asked elected officials on the call. “People trust info from their employer. … We’re ready to work with government as a group of Silicon Slopes employers in sharing information that isn’t sugar coated, that we give it to them straight.”
Romney said he agreed with Hanks and felt the best approach forward is erring on the side of eliminating exposure opportunities.
“I do agree … that we are wise to be aggressive on this from the very beginning,” Romney said. “My own vote is the more closures the better, the more working from home the better.”
The call was hosted by Utah tech advocacy group Silicon Slopes. Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts also pledged whatever help his group and its members could supply. Numerous Utah tech firms have already canceled nonessential travel, postponed or canceled in-person meetings and events, and are gearing up to implement sweeping work-from-home plans.
Cox noted in the call, as he did during the press event, that testing capacity is one of the biggest challenges in navigating Utah public health issues related to COVID-19, saying a shortage of reagent chemicals, needed to process tests for the virus, is the biggest hindrance, rather than funding or local testing capacity.
Romney said growing testing capacity is a top priority for federal officials and that the U.S. had been caught “flat-footed” by the novel coronavirus outbreak. Utah’s junior senator also highlighted other actions pending before federal lawmakers aimed at helping U.S. businesses, and their employees, weather the economic fallout from the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
“The action you’re going to see from Congress will be focused on small businesses, helping them survive … and getting employees compensated for the time out of work,” Romney said.
Romney said a plan proposed by President Donald Trump to provide American workers with payroll tax relief, which could put slightly more money into individuals’ paychecks as well as more money into the accounts of business owners, would likely face a “very hostile reaction in the Senate.”
Romney also detailed how long-running supply chain issues, which have led to many pharmaceuticals and other goods like personal safety equipment being exclusively or primarily manufactured in China, is exacerbating U.S. efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
Cox asked Utah tech leaders on the call to help share the information the state is working to get out to Utahns, particularly in light of misinformation swirling around the internet and social media sites. Cox noted the worldwide mortality rate for COVID-19 is at 3.4%, many times greater than the rate for common flu. He said it is critical for residents to get valid, scientifically-based information as coronavirus issues continue to evolve.
“Help us amplify the messages today,” Cox said. “The biggest problem we had before yesterday was people not thinking this was serious. This is serious … this is not like the flu.”
Following the call, Cydni Tetro, CEO of ForgeDX and president of the Women Tech Council, told the Deseret News the Utah tech community is collectively being engaged, and proactive, in responding to the growing COVID-19 related public health issues and is ready to play a bigger role in partnering with state leaders to keep Utah communities safe.
“Most technology companies were already taking measures to move to remote work for proactive, safety reasons and leading the way in this area,” Tetro said. “In these conversations, there’s a great sense of shared collaboration, a desire to be all in on creating solutions, and a willingness to be aggressive about being overly cautious.
“The tech community is a big part of our economy and feels the responsibility it has to lead in areas that make our families and communities safer in these uncertain times. There was also discussion about how we could use our resources to accelerate solutions to keep people healthy.”