Only 1 new coronavirus case in 2 days in Southern Utah; Intermountain Healthcare starts testing treatments

Hand drawing a statistical chart about the importance of social distancing to flatten the curve in times of pandemic. Undated photo illustration. | Photo by Ivelin Radkov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The pace of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Southern Utah has slowed, with only one new case in the last two days.

Undated photo illustration of a child in COVID-19 quarantine in an undisclosed location | Photo by Sviatlana Lazarenka/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The number of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the five-county area reached 43 on Wednesday, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. Of those cases, 27 – or 63% – have been in Washington County.

Intermountain Healthcare also announced Wednesday it is starting clinical trials of two drugs to see if they are able to help treat people with the virus.

After four new cases were reported Sunday, there were two new cases on Monday, no new cases on Tuesday and one Wednesday. All three of the new cases reported since Monday have been in Washington County. David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said it is not yet time to declare any kind of victory in Southern Utah, but the signs are promising.

“A little too early to say, but there are indicators that Utah may reach the top of the curve earlier than the estimate,” Heaton said.

The Utah Department of Health has reported a steady 5% rise each day. There have been 1,846 cases in the state as of Wednesday with 13 deaths and 158 hospitalized.

The numbers don’t necessarily take into account those who have recovered at home with mild symptoms who have self-treated without contacting a doctor or clinic, or those who never had symptoms at all and still carried the virus without being tested.

A motorist comes up to an Intermountain Healthcare drive-thru coronavirus testing site in an undisclosed location. Undated photo | Photo courtesy Intermountain Medical

Those who are the latter may be getting more answers shortly, as the state is close to having an antibody test available that would let someone who may have not had symptoms know that they have been an asymptomatic carrier of the virus at some point.

Medical scientists have been working on a theory that the new virus moved through the country before the first case was reported in the nation on Jan. 21 and the first confirmed case in Southern Utah on March 21. A test for antibodies would confirm if a person has had the virus, even if they never had the symptoms show up.

This could help public health officials start to get a better handle on the scope of the problem – as the virus is unlikely to reinfect people – and also help those in need of blood from those who have already had the virus go through their system.

“We anticipate those tests in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.

Dunn, however, cautioned to avoid some mail-in antibody tests showing up online charging people up to $150.

“There are several tests out there that claim they can tell. Right now, there’s not a lot of evidence these work, so we’re urging caution,” Dunn said. “The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and we are working on a test that will be more accurate. So we would say wait for the scientists.”

Intermountain will test COVID-19 treatments

Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah Health system announced Wednesday that they will be testing two drugs on 2,300 patients throughout the state to see if there are safe and effective to treat those with the coronavirus. 

The drugs are hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (commonly known as the Z-Pak). 

A pharmacist processes a prescription at the Stucki Family Pharmacy in Washington City, Utah, on Jan. 9, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Hydroxychloroquine has been touted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for the coronavirus. However, other medical scientists, including White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, have cautioned against people looking to it as a cure-all or self-medicating with it. A Phoenix, Arizona, man died in late March after taking a form of hydroxychloroquine used to clean aquariums. 

Dunn said the tests in Utah are actually the proper way to go as far in a controlled environment that will determine if the drugs are safe to use and actually help treat COVID-19 patients. 

“I applaud these efforts. This is exactly what we need to be doing to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” Dunn said. “Whenever were using a new drug, there’s always the potential for side effects. That’s why it’s essential that these are studied. They will be studied in a closed environment.”

Terri Draper, communications director for Dixie Regional Medical Center, said patients there will likely be a part of the clinical trial.

“We expect Dixie and all Intermountain facilities will be involved and able to participate as we have patients who meet the clinical trial guidelines,” Draper said.

Along with side effects, there have also been concerns that treating people with COVID-19 with these drugs will deprive those who already take the medications for other conditions. 

Hydroxychloroquine is used for those with malaria, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. The Z-Pak is an antibiotic treatment for acute bronchitis, sinusitis and pneumonia. 

Dunn said having a controlled clinical trial will ensure that pharmacies won’t run out of critical medications.

“It’s essential that we continue to have it for people to treat people with these diseases,” Dunn said. “We will have these measures in place.”

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count

Positive COVID-19 tests: 43, including 1 death and 23 recoveries.

  • Washington County: 27
  • Iron County: 13
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Kane County: 2
  • Beaver County: 0

Hospitalized: 3

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

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