ST. GEORGE — The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has reported the first death of a Southern Utah resident related to COVID-19.
According the health department, a woman, an older adult under the age of 60, died Thursday while receiving treatment in a Salt Lake-area hospital. She had significant underlying health conditions.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist who heads the Utah COVID-19 response, said no further information is being released at this time. And while cases of COVID-19 are being reported by county, in regards to the death, the health department stated that they are only specifying that the person lived in the five-county area of Southwest Utah to protect the patient and their family.
“We always do the best to protect the privacy of the patient and their family,” Dunn said. “They’re going through a hard time right now so the last thing they need is to go through the burden of publicity, so we are protecting their identity right now.”
David Heaton, spokesman with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said cases are still low enough and the five-county area covered by the department has many rural areas where it would be difficult to maintain the anonymity of the deceased. Beyond privacy, Heaton said the location of those who have tested positive for the virus and died from the disease it creates is besides the point.
“We want to assume COVID-19 is in our area and take precautions,” Heaton said. “This is a sad reminder.”
Heaton did confirm the deceased was previously included to the total of Southern Utah residents who had tested positive. Like the day before, that total increased by one Friday – the first case in Garfield County.
The total now stands at 10 who have tested positive for the virus in Southern Utah: six in Washington County, two in Iron County, one in Garfield County and one visitor from out of the five-county area.
The patient who died had tested positive for COVID-19, and the health department said they are in contact with individuals who have been in close contact with her. They are being asked to quarantine or isolate while monitoring for fever and respiratory symptoms.
“We want to express our sympathy for this individual’s family and friends,” Dr. David Blodgett, Southwest Utah Public Health Department health officer said in a statement. “We encourage our community to maintain social distancing in your daily activities and make the effort to protect our older or vulnerable residents.”
First Southern Utah recovery reported
There was also a dose of positive news Friday: the first recovery in Southern Utah.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department did not specify in which county the person who recovered lives. But health officials are confident that once someone has been cleared of the virus or no longer shows symptoms, they cannot harm anyone else.
“People should be confident if they’ve had COVID-19 and they no longer have symptoms, they are not a danger to the public,” Dunn said, adding that even if a person has had the virus and not received a negative test, the Centers for Disease Control said they can no longer spread the virus. “Once a person has no symptoms after three days, it is not going to spread. The virus is most abundant in the body when you are first showing symptoms.”
A St. George man who acquired the virus while on a cruise ship vacation never tested negative for the virus but was still given the all clear to interact with others after experiencing no symptoms with the virus for more than 14 days. It is not clear if that man is the one being counted as “recovered.”
Heaton said the danger to those who will require hospitalizations cannot be downplayed, but people should also keep in mind 80% of those who get the virus will require no hospitalization at all.
“Even though some people might be fearful, a vast majority are dealing with mild to moderate symptoms and they will all recover fully,” Heaton said.
Gold Cross Ambulance changing who gets transported
Gold Cross Ambulance is changing policy to who will get transported to the hospital on 911 calls, opting to transport only certain cases.
Jack Meersman, compliance officer with Gold Cross, said during the daily state coronavirus briefing Friday that to reduce both risk to paramedics and emergency room capacities, they will sometimes ask those seeing ambulance transport to refer to their primary care physician or follow CDC protocol for more quarantine and care, rather than taking patients to the ER.
“There are protocols but there will be times where we will refer off to primary care,” Meersman said. “There are times we will say we can’t take you because it is too much a risk.”
Gold Cross is the primary ambulance transport in Utah, including Southern Utah.
COVID-19 may have already passed through
Some people locally have said they felt COVID-19-like symptoms before the first cases were recorded in Southern Utah, with reports of people who say they felt ill in January and February.
On Friday, Heaton did not dismiss the possibility many in the area experienced and recovered from the virus before the first positive test in Southern Utah took place on March 21.
“It’s possible a couple of people had it in the last few months and recovered,” Heaton said. “That is possible.”
A study released Tuesday by the University of Oxford’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease lab said it is possible many in the worldwide population have already had the COVID-19 virus run through their system. The study added people could be tested for antibodies and that would indicate that people had already had the disease.
Heaton referred to the Oxford study, but said current tests are concentrating on those who have the virus now.
“The Oxford study says if we could test for antibodies we would get a true number,” Heaton said. “The current test only tests for current COVID cases.”
Utah’s current State Public Health Order recommends that anyone over the age of 60 or who is immunocompromised should avoid contact with any other individual except to receive critical assistance. Everyone should avoid discretionary travel, social visits and shopping trips other than shopping for food and other essentials.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough or shortness of breath. If someone has these symptoms and has been in close contact with a known positive COVID-19 case, that individual should immediately call their health care provider for guidance. People with questions about COVID-19, including testing, can call the Utah Coronavirus information line at 1-800-456-7707.
For southwest Utah COVID-19 updates, visit the Southwest Utah Public Health Department website. For other essential information and state updates, visit coronavirus.utah.gov or one of the resources below.
COVID-19 information resources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Utah Department of Health
- Intermountain Healthcare
Southern Utah coronavirus count
Positive COVID-19 tests: 10, including 1 death.
- Washington County: 6
- Iron County: 2
- Garfield County: 1
- Visitors: 1
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