ST. GEORGE — For only the second time since the first coronavirus case was announced in Southern Utah on March 21, there were no new positive tests of the virus reported Wednesday.
In fact, there have only been two cases in the five-county area since Monday according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department – both in Washington County.
But state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said it would be a mistake for anyone south of Provo to get a sense of security when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic or be ready to go back to business as usual.
“The other side of the coin is COVID is not going to stop at borders,” Dunn said. “COVID in Salt Lake County could be COVID in Southern Utah. We have to have a high level of prudence when we’re looking at opening things up.”
The counties surrounding Salt Lake City have taken the brunt of the 2,542 coronavirus cases to date in Utah. There have been 1,285 cases in Salt Lake County alone, including the state’s 20th death Wednesday.
This is in contrast to the 58 cases to date and one death in Southern Utah. According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, there are just two Southern Utah residents hospitalized at the moment for coronavirus-related illnesses.
Dunn said this is evidence that measures taken as part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives are working. The state also has good tracking of those who have had the virus as Dunn said 85% of the cases in the state have been able to be traced to another individual.
“I know the measures can be tough for the long term, but we need to keep it up,” Dunn said. “The perspective from the state is everyone should be following his directives. It is working.”
Dunn said there is one more factor that has been favorable for Southern Utahns: the great outdoors. That can be seen in abundance from St. George to Cedar City to Moab, with residents taking advantage of the outdoor trails and paths that are still available while maintaining social distancing.
“Outside is the place to be. The virus is less likely to spread through the air,” Dunn said. “We need a balance in mental and physical wellness. We need to find ways to get outside and move around while maintaining social distancing.”
Dunn advises hitting the outdoors – even if it is just a walk around the block – at non-peak times like early in the day or later in the evening and going on less crowded trails.
As far as when things can reopen, Dunn said it will come down to two factors.
“We hope we see a decline in the growth rate, and we want to see a day statewide where there are no new cases,” Dunn said. “Those will be our key metrics.”
Coronavirus testing now readily available
Dunn said there are now enough testing supplies that if you have just one of the symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus, you should get tested.
“The state of Utah now has the capacity to test,” Dunn said. “Anyone with fever, cough or shortness of breath should be tested. We now have the capacity.”
In fact, Dunn said anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should get tested for the virus.
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Loss of taste or smell
Until now, the ability to test as many people as possible has not existed.
According to Dunn, the state of Utah was at the mercy of what was supplied by the federal government. And those test kits were slow in coming, which is why testing was so limited initially.
“At the beginning of this outbreak, we had a low capacity to test because the supplies were low,” Dunn said. “That was a national supply. We now have an increased capacity through our national partners.”
Initially, when the first cases appeared in Utah in March, testing was limited to those over 65, medical workers and those exhibiting the most severe symptoms because of the limited supply of tests from the federal government. Dunn said that may have cost the state time that could have reduced the more than 2,000 statewide who have now been infected.
“Not having that capacity in the beginning, we could have helped prevent the spread,” Dunn said.
Medical officials later expanded testing for those exhibiting all of the symptoms, and a free drive-thru testing site appeared at InstaCare locations in St. George and Cedar City.
Now Dunn says if a person exhibits just one of the symptoms, they should consider getting tested.
“If you have just one of the symptoms you should get tested.”
COVID-19 information resources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Utah Department of Health
- Intermountain Healthcare
- To Donate and Volunteer to Help
Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of April 15, 2020)
Positive COVID-19 tests: 58, including 1 death and 38 recoveries.
- Washington County: 39
- Iron County: 15
- Garfield County: 1
- Kane County: 3
- Beaver County: 0
Tests performed (as of April 8): 3,016
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