Southern Utahns come through in effort to make masks for coronavirus caregivers, as new cases hit another high

ST. GEORGE — At the start of the month, a coalition of hospitals, churches and universities developed an initiative asking people in Southern Utah with sewing machines to help create medical-grade masks to donate for doctors, nurses and other caregivers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents drop off homemade masks at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on May 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

And Southern Utah delivered. 

More than 300,000 masks have been created by volunteers locally as part of ProjectProtect. Those masks will come in handy, as for the third-straight day the Southwest Utah Public Health Department reported a one-day high for coronavirus cases.

With a growing number of patients at Dixie Regional Medical Center and other hospitals locally, the need for personal protection equipment, or PPE, for caregivers is becoming more urgent.

Seemingly in the nick of time, Southern Utahns have come through as carload after carload arrived at a parking lot in the back of the 400 East campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center Saturday morning.

Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director of the hospital, noted that the number of masks made far exceeded the population of Southern Utah.

Residents drop off homemade masks at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on May 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Our population is about 187,000 people. That’s more than one mask per person that has been made by volunteers,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of community support and at the hospital, we feel that.”

The hospital has seen a sharp rise in the number of those hospitalized for the coronavirus this week and now has more than 60% of its beds filled with patients. 

Mitch Cloward, administrator of Dixie Regional Medical Center, was one of those holding a large “thank you” sign at the mask dropoff. And Cloward told St. George News the feeling was heartfelt. 

“We need the masks,” Cloward said.” There are more people in our hospital now than there ever have been so we’re not through this yet.”

Statewide, the goal was to create 3 million masks. In the end, more than 5 million were created statewide. 

The project will continue to seek people to create masks at this site.

ProjectProtect started out as a joint effort of Intermountain Medical and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sheri Gali, a same-day surgery educator at the hospital, shows off her gratitude as residents drop off homemade masks at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on May 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Starting the second week in May, volunteers picked up kits at the 400 East campus to make 100 masks on their home sewing machines. Some people exceeded that total.

The effort was buoyed on May 13 when administrators, faculty and students from every school of higher education joined in the effort – including those at Dixie State University, Southern Utah University and Dixie Technical College.

To represent Dixie State, Brooks the Bison was on hand to greet cars entering the mask dropoff Saturday.

One person in a red pickup drove up to 400 East Saturday morning and out came one white kitchen bag full of masks. Then another, and another. There were about 2,400 mask in all made by that one household. 

And that wasn’t the only vehicle where multiple bags of masks were unloaded. It wasn’t long before a volunteer yelled out to “smush the masks” to make room in the boxes, as the boxes at the site were quickly filling up.

Wearing her scrubs, Sheri Gali, a same-day surgery educator at the hospital, wanted to personally thank those dropping off the homemade masks.

“It makes me feel so grateful,” said Gali, who said on her off time she sewed masks herself. “Everybody in the community can do this. Everybody’s working together as a team to make it work.”

Southern Utah surge continues

Cars line up around the block at the Intermountain drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on May 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The current coronavirus spike continued in Southern Utah Saturday – especially in Washington County.

There were 37 new cases in Southern Utah Saturday, shattering the record of 26 set on Friday. Hospitalizations stabilized, with one patient being released and two people having to be admitted to the hospital for 18 currently hospitalized.

As people were dropping off the masks Saturday morning at a parking lot in the back of the 400 East campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center, around the block was physical evidence of the growing problem. From the drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in front of the South Entrance on 500 South, a line of more than a dozen cars at times stretched around the block. At one point, the line was two or three car lengths from blocking the entryway to the mask dropoff site.

The Intermountain drive-thru testing site is for those who have already been screened as having one or more symptoms of the virus. There is an additional Intermountain drive-thru testing site at the Cedar City InstaCare at 962 Sage Drive as well as a TestUtah drive-thru testing site where anyone can get tested for free at the back parking lot of the Red Cliffs Mall in St. George. 

Washington County had 33 of the 37 new cases of the virus reported Saturday. In the last three days, the number of cases in Washington County has gone up 26.1%, or from 283 to 357 cases. Up until this week, the daily increase in cases locally was around 1 to 2%.

Medical personnel administer COVID-19 tests at the Intermountain drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on May 30, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Health officials have said the new cases and the growing hospitalizations are mainly coming from person-to-person contact among people who are local residents not practicing social distancing or wearing face coverings. They have made it clear the surge is not coming from the increasing amount of out-of-town visitors since all businesses were allowed to open up with the move to the yellow risk level on May 16.

The other four new cases Saturday were in Iron County, which has had 60 cases overall.

Also, the number of infected is getting close to exceeding the number of those who have recovered. There are now 180 people actively infected in the area, while the remaining 243 who have had the virus in Southern Utah have recovered or have the virus but are no longer contagious.

Check out additional photos below. Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of May 30, 2020, one-day increase in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 423 (37 new)

  • Washington County: 357 (33 new)
  • Iron County: 60 (4 new)
  • Garfield County: 3 
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 0

Deaths: 4 

  • Washington County: 3 
  • Iron County: 1

Currently hospitalized: 18 (2 new, 1 released) 

Recovered: 243 (6 new).

Tested: 11,184 (0 new tests)

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

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