ST. GEORGE — A day after Gov. Gary Herbert denied a request by Southern Utah leaders to lower the coronavirus restriction guidelines in this area of the state by May 8, the rate of COVID-19 tests that came back positive was around four times the daily average for the area in May.
Up until Saturday, the daily average of tests in Southern Utah that were determined to be positive was 1.3%. On Saturday, 4.8% of the newly reported tests came in as positive.
Local leaders indicated Friday the state would determine any reconsideration of moving toward the lower “yellow” risk level over the weekend to be based on how the area fared in case rate. The governor denied a second request to lower coronavirus restrictions in the area.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike told St. George News the new numbers all but eliminates the possibility of moving to yellow.
It definitely puts moving to yellow status on hold,” Pike, who co-signed the request with Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist, said. “The state is looking for us to have a transmission rate of less than 1.5%. So I’m not sure we’ll see that change enough to get us to yellow even by Monday.
Southern Utah nearly doubled the previous high for positive tests in one day, set on Monday, with 17 new cases reported Saturday – and all 17 new cases were in Washington County according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. The previous high for new cases in one day was nine.
Hospitalizations of residents have not increased and have remained at three since the area’s third COVID-related death on Tuesday. According to the Southwest department, there have been no new hospitalizations in the area since April 30.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the health district attributed the rise in cases to “increased testing efforts.”
More expansion in testing is coming in the next week, as retired Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, who leads Herbert’s overall coronavirus response, said the TestUtah drive-thru testing site at the Red Cliffs Mall’s parking lot in St. George has been authorized by the state to test anyone who wants a test for free even if they don’t have apparent symptoms starting Monday.
It will be a pilot program to see the results of those who may have the virus but are asymptomatic.
Also, Intermountain Medical has moved its St. George free COVID-19 testing site from the campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center to a parking lot across the street from the old 400 East hospital campus at 376 E. 500 South.
The number of tests added doesn’t determine whether the rate goes up or not. If the rate is steady, the rate should be at 1.3% whether the number of tests were 1,000 or 100. And at 356 tests, the amount added to to the total tested in Southern Utah Saturday was actually the third-highest this week, but the increase in rate was still 4.8%.
With the Centers for Disease Control saying that the first indications of symptoms with the coronavirus coming three to six days after exposure to the virus, Saturday was also the first day the area got a look at how it has fared after the statewide risk level was lowered to the moderate orange level on May 1.
The Utah Department of Health has also now released overall case rate figures for more specific areas, and outside the Salt Lake City Area, the St. George area has the third-highest rate in the last 14 days behind Tooele County and the San Juan County area, which has seen the biggest case-rate surge in the state over the last 14 days.
Meanwhile, unlike Southern Utah, the state of Utah overall remained steady in case rate on Saturday, with 2.5% tests coming back positive. Utah has been averaging a 3% rate over the past few weeks.
Pike said no matter the result of the request to move yellow, he is optimistic about the line for communication between Southern Utah leaders and Salt Lake City through the future of the pandemic.
“I’m pleased that we have an open dialogue with the state and local departments of health as well as the governor,” Pike said. “We’re working together to be responsive to both the medical and financial health of our citizens.”
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 May 9, 2020)
Positive COVID-19 tests: 155 (17 new), with 91 recoveries (1 new).
- Washington County: 120 (17 new)
- Iron County: 29
- Garfield County: 3
- Kane County: 3
- Beaver County: 0
- Washington County: 2
- Iron County: 1
Tested: 7,732 (356 new tests)
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