Officials address ventilator availability as first case of COVID-19 community spread reported in Iron County

A novel coronavirus test can detect the presence of 2019-nCoV or COVID-19 virus in clinical specimens. Undated photo. | Photo by Anya Ivanova/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — On the day the United States surpassed China for the number of COVID-19 cases, only one new positive test was reported in Southern Utah and the state had its third straight day of the number of new positive tests potentially slowing. 

Photo by Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department announced one new case Thursday – an unidentified adult in Iron County. The patient is the first in Iron County to be have acquired the virus through community spread, rather than travel, and the announcement comes one day after Washington County reported its first person-to-person COVID-19 cases

Department policy has been not to release the gender or exact location of those who test positive for the virus. 

As of now, there are nine people who have tested positive for the virus in Southern Utah: six in Washington County, two in Iron County and one nonresident visiting the area. 

Utah had a 16% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state Thursday, which marked the third straight day that the rate had slowed down. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn noted the rate drop, saying the number is probably reflective of actions taken by the public toward social distancing and self-isolation from a week ago, as the incubation period of the virus can be up to 14 days before symptoms may appear.

“It’s certainly a great sign, but we need 14 days to see a real trend,” Dunn said. “We are doing excellent social distancing in Utah.”

Nevertheless, the overall number passed 400 in the state, with 402 overall cases.

On Thursday, the United States surpassed China as the nation with the most COVID-19 cases in the world. Since the first U.S. case appeared on Jan. 20, there have been 82,178 positive COVID-19 tests according to John Hopkins University. In China, there have been 81,285 cases since the new virus was first detected in Wuhan in December.

A series of social distancing and self-isolation measures have brought down the number of current active cases in China to 3,947 – with 74,051 recovered and 3,287 deaths. 

State trying to keep ventilators available

As the number of cases rises across the country, many of the hot spots like New York and Washington are seeing hospital beds and intensive care units reaching near capacity, with cries from government officials about the need for more ventilators. 

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sudok1/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

While Dunn said ventilators are in short supply nationwide, Utah is staying on the flatter part of what officials call “the curve.” But she added it is still possible Utah may end up facing the same shortages seen in other parts of the country. 

“We have not gotten anywhere near that in Utah, and our goal is to stay that way,” Dunn said. “We’re working with the governor’s office to procure more ventilators.”

Intermountain Healthcare has not released the exact number of ventilators available in either Dixie Regional Medical Center or Cedar City Hospital. Lance Madigan, a spokesperson for Intermountain, said if more ventilators are needed, the hospitals will be able to rely on help from other sources and aren’t necessarily limited to the equipment they have on hand.

“We deal with infectious disease every day. As a system, there are resources beyond what is at any given hospital at any given moment,” Madigan said, adding that giving the exact number of ventilators in each facility would not be accurate as they are subject to change. “We also work with federal, state and local agencies, both on preparedness and response, and have mutual aid agreements with many organizations.”

That said, while the early stages of flattening the curve are showing signs of success, Dunn said there may not be enough resources to go around.  

“Not every ICU has a ventilator bed. If our curve remains the way it is, we will have a strain on our system. But we also have the goal to stay below the curve,” Dunn said.

Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In its most recent estimate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that 30% (96 million) of the U.S. population will test positive, with 5% (4.8 million) being hospitalized. Of the hospitalized patients, 20% would require ventilators. 

That’s about 960,000 patients. 

The Society of Critical Care Medicine, which represents critical care doctors and facilities, estimates that the number of ventilators available for patients nationwide is around 200,000

Dixie Regional Medical Center is licensed as a 284-bed facility, while Cedar City Hospital is a 48-bed facility. Madigan said many of the rooms can be adapted to serve as ICU units in times of need. 

Dunn said residents in the state may need to be prepared for the possibility that there won’t be enough beds.

“The idea that we may have to prioritize care among individuals is a possibility, but we’re trying to prevent that.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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