Devon Dewey,, File

Here are the task force members guiding Utah's coronavirus response

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - May 15, 2020 at 8:22 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — In early March, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the creation of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, comprised of government, health, business, religious and community leaders from across the state.

Since then the state has also created an economic task force and a multicultural task force as subcommittees of the original, and the Utah Legislature got in on the action by creating the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission last month to weigh in on the state's reopening.

Collectively, these groups have been given a broad mandate to steer Utah's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state moved two weeks ago to ease its most stringent restrictions that recommended Utahns stay home whenever possible; on Saturday, Utah will downgrade its risk level again, designating most of the state as at "low risk" for the coronavirus while continuing to advise mask wearing and social distancing.

But who is actually on these task forces, committees and commissions that guide the state's response?

COVID-19 Community Task Force

The first formal group assembled by the state during the coronavirus pandemic was the COVID-19 Community Task Force, which has since been at the forefront of the state's response even as ancillary groups sprang up around it.

Herbert tapped Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to lead the unit. Other task force members include:

  • Retired Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, acting director, Department of Health
  • Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, Department of Health
  • Jess Anderson, Department of Public Safety
  • Kris Hamlet, Division of Emergency Management
  • Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Board of Education
  • Derek Miller, Salt Lake Chamber
  • Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare
  • Dr. Brian Shiozawa, University of Utah Health
  • Pamela Atkinson, Community Advocate - Governor's Office
  • Marty Stephens, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Rep. Paul Ray
  • Senate Majority Assistant Whip Ann Millner

The task force is assisted by staff including Kirsten Rappleye of the lieutenant governor's office and Gordon Larsen, Ron Gordon and Anna Lehnardt of the governor's office, according to a roster provided by the lieutenant governor's office.

Economic Response Task Force

The members of the Utah Economic Response Task Force are listed at the end of the Utah Leads Together 2.0 document, which outlines the various considerations, metrics and precautions the state will use as it reopens businesses. It details the color-coded system the state is now using to communicate appropriate restrictions at various risk levels.

The Economic Response Task Force is chaired by Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. Its other members, per the document, include:

  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert
  • Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox
  • Utah Senate President Stuart Adams
  • Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson
  • Scott Anderson, Zions Bank
  • Allyson Bell, Sen. Mike Lee’s Office and federal delegation liaison
  • Lori Belnap Pehrson, Northrop Grumman Corporation
  • Carine Clark, Silicon Slopes
  • Kristen Cox, Governor’s Office of Management and Budget
  • Cameron Diehl, Utah League of Cities and Towns
  • Spencer Eccles, The Cynosure Group
  • Kaitlin Eskelson, Visit Salt Lake
  • Theresa Foxley, EDCUtah
  • Brandon Fugal, Colliers International
  • Miles Hansen, World Trade Center Utah
  • Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
  • Brandy Grace, Utah Association of Counties
  • Val Hale, Governor’s Office of Economic Development
  • Justin Harding, State of Utah
  • Clark Ivory, Ivory Homes
  • Ben Kolendar, Salt Lake City
  • Sarah Lehman, Utah Stem Action Center
  • Jill Remington Love, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts
  • Darin Mellott, CBRE
  • Scott Peterson, Utah Fund of Funds
  • Jon Pierpont, Department of Workforce Services
  • Steve Starks, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies
  • Steve Styler, Rural Partnership Board
  • Cydni Tetro, Forge DX and Women’s Tech Council
  • Vicki Varela, Utah Office of Tourism
  • Craig Wagstaff, Dominion Energy
  • Don Willie, St. George Area Chamber of Commerce

The Deseret News reported the task force was "hand-picked" by Herbert.

Multicultural Subcommittee

The members of the Multicultural Subcommittee of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force are listed on the website of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs.

The subcommittee was announced on April 23 in light of data that shows people of color are more likely to contract COVID-19 and may be more vulnerable to economic hardship after the state's response. For instance, Hispanics and Latinos account for just over 14% of Utah's population, but nearly 38% of its confirmed coronavirus cases.

The purpose of the committee "is to work in collaboration with existing frameworks to amplify efforts and alleviate the growing disparities faced by systematically marginalized and underrepresented communities," its website says.

The subcommittee is headed by Nubia Peña, director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs. Its other members are:

  • Byron Russell, co-chair
  • Ze Min Xiao, co-chair
  • Jess Anderson, Utah Department of Public Safety
  • Dr. Marc Babitz, Utah Department of Health
  • Aden Batar, Catholic Community Services
  • Juan Becerra, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Silvia Castro, Suazo Business Center
  • Neelam Chand, Zions Bank
  • Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Utah Multicultural Commission
  • Dulce Diez, Utah Office of Health Disparities
  • Jake Fitisemanu Jr., Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition
  • Mike Haddon, Utah Department of Corrections
  • Emma E. Houston, MLK Jr. Human Rights Commission
  • Dustin Jansen, Utah Division of Indian Affairs
  • Deneiva Knight, Comcast
  • Celina Milner, Salt Lake City Mayor's Office
  • Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare
  • Dr. Len Novilla, Brigham Young University
  • Yehemy Zavala Orozco, Comunidades Unidas
  • Asha Parekh, Utah Department of Workforce Services, Refugee Services
  • Tami Pyfer, Utah Governor's Office
  • Ming Wang, Utah Department of Human Services

The subcommittee met for the first time on May 1, its website says.

Byron Russell, co-chair for the Utah Multicultural Commission and the Multicultural Subcommittee, speaks about the formation of the subcommittee at the Utah Capitol on April 23, 2020. (Photo: KSL TV)

Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission

On April 17, the Utah Legislature passed SB3004 in a special session, creating the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission which was to provide a recommendation to Herbert on reopening the state.

Herbert that same day released the Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan, and said the new commission would assist him in its implementation.

SB3004 spelled out how the commission would be comprised, including a representative from the Utah Department of Health, four appointments from the governor, two from the Senate president, two from the Speaker of the House, and one by the the Utah Association of Counties. Two of the governor's appointees had to be chief executives of health care organizations.

The commission was ultimately comprised as follows:

  • Retired Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, Department of Health, co-chair
  • Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, co-chair
  • Senate President Stuart Adams
  • House Majority Whip Mike Schultz
  • Brandy Grace, Utah Association of Counties
  • Dr. Michael Good, University of Utah Health
  • Brian Dunn, Steward Healthcare
  • Steve Starks, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies
  • Derek Miller, Salt Lake Chamber
  • Mark Bouchard, Salt Lake City real estate executive

After recommending the governor move forward with eased restrictions in late April, the commission released a statement Friday supporting Herbert's move to a "low risk" designation in most of the state.

"The Commission's goal is to make data-driven recommendations in consultation with economic advisors and elected officials that protect vulnerable populations and allow the state to carefully transition to a lower risk status," the group wrote. "Some increase in COVID-19 cases is expected as the state transitions phases. However, the metrics driving recommendations and decisions include hospital utilization rates, the transmission rate and rate of community spread, as well as new insights about high-risk populations."

Some officials, like Burton, Adams, Miller and Moore, are serving on more than one of these committees. Collectively, they have overseen one of the more aggressive reopening timelines in the country; but they have also coordinated a coronavirus response that has left Utah, so far, healthier than many other states. Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, is a member of the Economic Response Task Force. She said the Utah Leads Together document her task force helped create has been held up as a model of economic recovery planning across the country.

"I was on the phone with my colleagues from the other 49 states about a week or so ago, just exchanging notes about our recovery plans," Varela said. "And before I even commented, tourism directors from other states started referencing the Utah economic recovery plan as a model they were working from on their own state plans.

"I knew that we were on a really good path, but it's always interesting to hear third parties reference that it's also their model," she said.

Varela said the task force has relied on Zoom meetings — "It's the new normal," she said — and "lots of email communications" to do its work. She also credited the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and its director, fellow task force member Natalie Gochnour, with being the "key architect behind the scenes" of the plan. "In any effort, it takes one person who is able to collect all the ideas and distill them into a cohesive narrative," Varela said.

Moving forward, Varela said she anticipates the task force will keep meeting and drill down on best practices in the months to come. "That's the most important thing that will help us through this stabilizing period," she said, "is to identify best practices, important things like wearing face masks ... and then communicating to people all the best practices that businesses are generating so that they can feel safe as consumers."

She said Utahns show "who we are, as individuals and as a state, in extreme circumstances."

"I'm very proud of the way our state is coming together and collaborating toward our economic recovery," she said. "I feel very optimistic."

Graham Dudley

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