Number of coronavirus cases in Southern Utah spikes following 2 days without a case

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After two straight days without a new coronavirus case in Southern Utah, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department announced there were six positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday – tying for the highest number in one day since the pandemic began.

A motorist comes up to an Intermountain Healthcare drive-through coronavirus testing site in an undisclosed location. Undated photo | Photo courtesy Intermountain Medical, St. George News

The six cases were divided equally between Washington and Iron Counties, bringing the total to 76 coronavirus cases since the first one was reported locally on March 21.

“We don’t know for sure, but the spike could be from increased testing or a little catch-up from reporting delays,” David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said. 

It was the third time that Southern Utah recorded six positive tests in a day, with the other two instances being March 31 and April 1. Like the two days without a case, it remains to be seen whether Thursday’s spike is an aberration or the sign of a new trend.

The increase in cases locally comes as the state has remained steady at around a 5% growth rate in cases per day. A total of 3,612 cases have been reported in Utah with 35 deaths. The governor has until April 30 to decide whether to reopen parts of the state’s economy because of a mandate by the Utah Legislature

“There is much reason to be optimistic. We have the most comprehensive plan in America,” Gov. Gary Herbert said during the state’s daily coronavirus press conference Thursday. “The good news shows that our plan is working. It is slowing the spread of the coronavirus.”

Herbert’s assertion is bolstered by a study by the New York Times utilizing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health agencies. According to the study, Utah is among the top states in the nation as far as preventing deaths from the coronavirus. Utah has had one coronavirus-related death per 100,000 residents, which is sixth in the nation.

Overall, Utah has had 96 COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people, according to the Utah Department of Health. Southern Utah has had 31.8 cases per 100,000 people. The highest rate – 818 per 100,000 – is in Summit County.

At the “Walk for Freedom” in St. George protesting coronavirus-caused closures and restrictions protesters claim are impeding constitutionally-protected freedoms, St. George, Utah, April 15, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Beyond the legislative mandate, there are the growing protests by some groups for Herbert to rescind his orders and recommendations for closures in the state, including a protest last Wednesday in St. George that featured more than 200 outside the Washington County Administrative Building defying social distancing practices.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Thursday while health departments can’t tell if a lack of social distancing is causing more cases to occur, they can tell if a single event or a gathering in one place causes a spike in cases.

“When we identify any confirmed case, we are able to determine their actions and where they were,” Dunn said. “Because of that, we are able to quantify cases and where they came from.”

Another tool that will be used by health departments is the Healthy Together app that was launched Wednesday. The app will allow users to know if they have had contact with someone infected with the virus and better trace the locations of outbreaks.

Herbert said in it’s first day, the app had around 15,000 downloads statewide. 

Small business loans released

Herbert announced Thursday that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has finished requests for small businesses statewide seeking bridge loans during the pandemic.

Herbert said 645 small businesses have been approved for loans and were sent contracts Thursday to sign. 

“They can be signed today and checks sent out as soon as tomorrow,” Herbert said. “This amounts to 15,000 plus jobs.”

Ethnic minorities taking big hit from virus

According to Herbert and other state officials, ethnic minorities are taking a disproportionate hit in Utah from the COVID-19 pandemic. For that reason, Herbert announced the formation of a separate multicultural task force to deal with the pandemic in the state.

“These are trying times for everybody, but we have found in data we have more significant issues in our minority groups,” Herbert said. “There’s a higher rate of infection among Latinos and Pacific Islanders, so we want to see what we could do to remedy that.”

According to the Utah Department of Health, 33% of coronavirus cases statewide have come from Latinos despite their representing 14% of the state’s population. While Pacific Islanders are 1.5% of Utah’s population, they represent 2% of Utah’s COVID-19 cases.

Virus underfoot?

While people have been concentrating on washing their hands in regard to coronavirus prevention, medical workers are finding an additional place where the COVID-19 virus can reside: the soles of their feet. 

Chart showing the results of a recent study by the Centers of Disease Control indicating the COVID-19 virus on surfaces in an intensive care ward. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News

A study by the CDC determined that among medical staff, the sole of medical workers’ feet proved to be the most contaminated surfaces. 

The soles of doctors, nurses and other medical workers in an intensive care ward with COVID-19 patients had a 50% positive rate, as opposed to a 25% rate on their gloves and a 16.7% rate on their sleeves.

The study also showed that computer mice in the wards were among the most contaminated surfaces. But the most contaminated surface of all was the pharmacy floor after medical workers tracked the virus onto that surface through the soles of their feet. 

Other studies have covered the effectiveness of both medical and homemade masks

The study does not have a great deal of bearing for the general public who, if social distancing is practiced, won’t be interacting with those with the coronavirus on a constant basis. But it does have a large bearing on the medical workers who care for those patients who need to do their job uninterrupted without contracting the virus themselves.

The act of just taking their shoes off after a long day could do that.

“The soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers,” the conclusion of the study said. “We highly recommend that persons disinfect shoe soles before walking out of wards containing COVID-19 patients.”

A medical worker demonstrates Kizik footwear. | Photo courtesy Kizik, St. George News

Medical workers at DRMC, Cedar City Hospital and other medical facilities in the state are getting a boost from a Utah-based shoe company. The Kizik footwear company, out of Vineland, Utah, is donating 1,000 pairs of shoes to medical workers in the state – including those at Dixie Regional – that are designed to be put on and removed without the use of hands. 

“It’s not a great time sales-wise for us. But when you can take the opportunity, and so we decided we could sacrifice a thousand pairs of shoes to help healthcare workers, these modern-day heroes,” Monte Deere, CEO of Kizik, said.

The shoes use a titanium band that is preloaded into the back of the shoes, which push down as the foot is inserted allowing a snug fit. Unlike a slip-on or slippers, there is no need for adjustment after the foot is inserted.  

A representative for Dixie Regional Medical Center said they can’t speak for individual donations, but their gratitude is just the same.

“We have received donations from many companies, locally, across the state of Utah, and beyond. Each donation is important and helps us alleviate need during this difficult time. We are so grateful and appreciative of the many giving hands and hearts that are making a difference in the efforts to combat this virus.”

Deere’s own son is a doctor in Iowa, though he’s not working with coronavirus patients. However, he said the company didn’t set out to create shoes to deal with pandemics. 

“We made them not necessarily to be hygienic. Our primary intention was to make shoes that will be convenient to put on and take off,” Deere said. “It was a bit of a happy surprise that in this new day was an excuse to help people.”

Medical workers seeking a free pair of Kizik shoes can go to this link. 

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of April 23, 2020)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 76, including 1 death and 58 recoveries.

  • Washington County: 51 (3 new)
  • Iron County: 21 (3 new)
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 0

Hospitalized: 1

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

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