Editor's note: Hyde Park Mayor Sharidean Flint was misquoted in the third paragraph of the original version of this article. The word "censorship" was misheard and mistranscribed as "discussion." It is now correct
While most health officials are trying to fight the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hyde Park’s Mayor Sharidean Flint has taken the opposite route.
In the December edition of The Hyde Parker city newsletter, Flint urged citizens to do their own research before following safety guidelines such as mask wearing and distancing, citing studies to support her claims.
“They’re claims that are made by scientists and researchers, and epidemiologists and biologists,” Flint said. “So my point is, there’s more than one side to the story. … And it’s really hard to find that kind of stuff, because you can’t Google it. If you post anything on Facebook, it gets taken down. There is active censorship going on about this, and that is concerning to me.”
But according to Dr. Ed Redd, the medical director for the Bear River Health Department, there’s a false equivalence in comparing the fringe studies to health officials’ recommendations.
“You can, on the internet especially, if you’re looking for information to confirm your preexisting bias about something, you can find stuff that confirms your ideas about something,” he said. “You can find it, but that’s not what science is about. Science is about being, you know, trying to be open about findings.”
Another issue is when people misrepresent the results of a study, such as Flint’s reference to a Danish study that “proved masks don’t work.” In the study, the authors themselves said their results were inconclusive.
“Even more importantly, the study was not assessing whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others,” Redd said. “This study did not look at that. Which there’s been plenty of other studies that have shown that.
“… And so when we ask people in the community to wear masks, the biggest benefit is with the asymptomatic people and presymptomatic people. It greatly reduces their chances of spreading the disease to the people around them.”
Jenny Mayfield grew up in Hyde Park, and her mother still lives there — which is why she was angry when she saw the message in the newsletter.
“Not only was Mayor Flint wrong on multiple accounts, I also couldn’t believe that she would use her office to spread dangerous information,” she wrote to The Herald Journal. “I could make plenty of critiques about the letter itself (contradictions, lack of sources, etc.), but the biggest issue to me is that she’s abusing her platform. She encourages residents to flout mask mandates at a time when Utah is experiencing unchecked community spread.”
‘We all decide who we’re going to believe’
Cases in the Bear River Health District seem to be plateauing, but the positivity rate is increasing and is now nearly 30% — just under 1 positive in every 3 tests performed — showing a high rate of community spread that is going untested.
When asked about her opposition to masks, Flint questioned why, with statewide measures like the mask mandate, are active cases still rising — something that state and local health officials have attributed to small gatherings at homes where people let their guard down and mingle with others, unmasked.
“The bottom line is, the more you’re around people, especially unmasked, the more your risk goes up for spreading the disease, especially if you’re asymptomatic or presymptomatic,” Redd said.
Estimated active cases are currently dropping in Cache County, following a peak around Thanksgiving.
Flint also alleged that the positivity rate is falsely high as tests are conducted with too much sensitivity. Redd argued the science behind positive test: if highly sensitive, tests would still pick up traces of the novel coronavirus, and the only thing it could not determine is if the virus is active or if it is the lingering dead virus in an asymptomatic case. It doesn’t negate the fact the virus was present.
Flint’s message also prompted two Letters to the Editor for The Herald Journal, and the online comments on them have been largely in favor of Flint’s beliefs. Flint said the response she has personally received via email is the same.
When posted on the private Hyde Park Neighborhood Facebook group, some constituents, like Mayfield, called the newsletter “irresponsible” and “going against state officials and health experts is not what I expect from a mayor.”
Flint argued her “responsibility as an elected official is to protect and defend God-given rights and liberties” rather than uphold the “collateral damage being done by the policies we have enacted,” such as on the economy and mental health.
Nibley’s Mayor Shaun Dustin, who battled COVID-19 for three months after being exposed at a family gathering for Independence Day weekend, agreed a balance must be struck between protecting health and the economy but has taken the opposite approach.
“These are not political issues,” Dustin said. “Masks are not political issues. Vaccines are not political issues. There (with political issues) we can all have an opinion about them. We get put in these positions, and then we have a responsibility to find out the truth and tell the truth.”
Dustin said when in a position of power, it can be easy to make a stand and share certain personal beliefs and causes over others, but he personally puts his trust in the Bear River Health Department.
“I pay them to research that stuff and tell me the truth, and so I don’t really care what Facebook says, I don’t care what Donald Trump says. I, Frankly, I don’t care what Anthony Fauci says,” he said. “I care what Lloyd Berentzen and his successors say. That’s where I go for information.”
Flint maintains a belief in her sources over local, state and even federal officials.
“I think throughout life, we go around picking who we’re going to believe,” she said. “You know, we all do that. We all decide who we’re going to believe, and who we’re not going to believe. I mean, why is it that the 50,000 scientists who signed the Great Barrington Declaration are less believable than the people at the CDC? Why is that?”
The anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration, penned by Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, has largely been rejected by health officials for understating the harm that can be caused by the virus.
None of the three authors have created a peer-reviewed study of COVID-19, and of the “scientists and medical professionals” who signed the document, the British Sky News group claimed dozens of fake names were listed, such as “Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename and Dr. Johnny Bananas,” and most of the others were homeopathic practitioners.
The signatures are no longer visible at https://gbdeclaration.org/view-signatures/ (the declaration’s webpage).