ST. GEORGE — Sen. Mitt Romney and state officials assured Southern Utah residents they are not being forgotten even as new COVID-19 cases continue to be limited to northern Utah.
Romney, who unveiled on Monday an aid proposal to provide all Americans with a one-time payment of $1,000, said despite more of the immediate impact being felt in northern Utah, those in Southern Utah should be ready.
“Every citizen of our state is very much on my mind. I feel a great deal of sympathy for those whose lives are being dramatically disrupted, also those who have had to set aside long-prepared plans for weddings and other special events,” Romney told St. George News.
Dr. Angela Dunn, who is leading the Utah state response to COVID-19, said tests have been sent daily from locations in Southern Utah to the main testing site in Salt Lake City.
“We routinely get testing from Southern Utah daily,” Dunn told St. George News. “There are daily couriers, so we are not limiting Southern Utah.”
Dunn said as of Monday, around 700 people have been tested in the state. There have been 39 who tested positive, 10 of which were visitors. Tooele and Wasatch counties reported their first cases Monday, with Wasatch being the county farthest south that has reported an infection.
The state count includes St. George resident Mark Jorgensen, who acquired the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Asia during a recent vacation. There have been no cases of people acquiring the virus anywhere in Southern Utah.
Romney said even though Southern Utah has not seen the effects of the virus first-hand, its residents – old and young – need to treat each other like it is already here.
“For people in an area that is not substantially affected, they hopefully recognize that those at the greatest risk take the greatest precautions,” Romney said. “Those that may not be not at a higher risk will also be doing their neighbors and grandparents an enormous service by also taking precautions so they don’t inadvertently spread this disease throughout our community.”
In another sign of changes that will have an effect on people in Southern Utah, Intermountain Healthcare announced Monday afternoon that it will postpone all nonessential surgeries at its hospitals including Dixie Regional Medical Center and Cedar City Hospital. The move is effective immediately to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 cases.
This is all about people. We are making sure there are adequate medical supplies and beds,” Dr. Mark Briesacher, Intermountain senior vice president, said. “This is a proactive step so we will be there for our community.”
It is not clear exactly which surgeries are being delayed, though Briesacher said patients are being informed.
Briesacher and Dunn both emphasized testing for COVID-19 is still being limited to those at the highest risk and who are exhibiting more than mild symptoms.
While Dunn said the state is able to test “anyone who needs it,” she added, “we are still limiting the supplies needed to test and that comes from our federal partners.”
Dunn said Intermountain Healthcare should have its own testing capabilities by the end of the week, though she did not indicate if that would include Dixie Regional Medical Center or Cedar City Hospital.
Dunn also stressed the importance of social distancing. And Monday, President Donald Trump recommended that gatherings nationwide be limited to 10 or less people because of the virus.
“Social distancing is important. Being disciplined at social distancing will keep us safe,” Dunn said. “There’s likely cases we haven’t identified.”
However, for psychological reasons, Dunn said getting together with a limited number of friends and family is actually encouraged, so as long as no one there is exhibiting symptoms.
“As long as they’re not symptomatic, small gatherings are encouraged and fine,” Dunn said.
Dunn emphasized that anyone experiencing mild symptoms should choose to call their doctor or a telecare service and self-quarantine rather than running to the emergency room.
“Those with mild illness should stay home unless there are accelerated cases,” Dunn said.
Romney said people need to be aware the virus is especially harmful to the elderly population. He said he is in his own self-isolation and is the only one working in his Washington D.C. office while the rest of his staff are working from home. Besides himself, he said he is especially aware of the risk for someone like his wife, Ann Romney, who is dealing with multiple sclerosis.
Nevertheless, his primary message is to remain calm.
“This really is not reason for people to become fearful and panic. We have a condition that is highly contagious but doesn’t spread through the air,” Romney said. “This is something we’re going to get through.”
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