‘Worst is yet to come’: Study shows pandemic just beginning in Southern Utah, which reports 41 new cases

Nurse wearing respirator mask holding a positive blood test result for the new rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Undated photo illustration. | Photo by Samara Heisz/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — RedRiver Health and Wellness, a company based out of Southern Utah, started their COVID-19 antibody study in late April and the preliminary results have come back. Those results indicate that the earliest anyone in Utah had the new coronavirus was in February, contrary to those who have said they had the virus earlier.

Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth performs a coronavirus test outside the Salt Lake County Health Department, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

The results come as Southern Utah set a new single-day high for the spread of the virus with 41 new positive tests, while hospitalizations went up to 19.

The study set out with the goal to identify when COVID-19 first appeared in Utah and identify the prevalence of COVID-19 exposure in asymptomatic individuals.

In the preliminary findings, the earliest case of COVID-19 identified by the study was on Feb. 15 in Logan, Utah. Of those who were tested and had shown symptoms of COVID-19 between October of 2019 and January of 2020, none of them tested positive and the study could not confirm any cases prior to this period of time.

“I went into it thinking that a lot more were exposed and it was circulating a lot longer then we thought, but I was wrong,” Dr. Josh Redd of RedRiver Health and Wellness said. “We tested a little bit over 800 people now that were really sick from October to January and they all had COVID-19 like symptoms. Not one of them tested positive.”

A St. George News story in January reported on the outbreak of a different respiratory virus in Southern Utah late in 2019 called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

The study used multiple antibody tests to ensure accuracy, including the Abbott Architect Assay antibody test by Fisher Scientific. This test is also being used by national labs and Intermountain Healthcare to conduct various antibody studies.

The biggest conclusion from the study is that COVID-19 has not peaked in Utah and that social distancing and self-quarantine measures may have been implemented too early.

Graphic showing 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah through June 13, 2020. Click to enlarge. | Background photo by
mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News

Redd mentioned that less than 1% of 3,000 individuals who participated in the test tested positive for COVID-19. This means that there has not been much circulation or exposure to COVID-19 due to how long it took for it to reach the state of Utah.

“As soon as we come out, we’re going to get exposed and we’re going to have problems,” Redd said. “Really in this instance, we all figure that there wasn’t that much exposure, nobody really has immunity and as soon as we become active we’re going to get a lot more people exposed. That’s what we’re seeing right now, it’s peaking everyday pretty much.”

To exemplify that point, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department reported Saturday that Southern Utah shattered 40 new cases in a day for the first time, while hospitalizations are going up for the first time in a week. 

With COVID-19 cases rising in Utah, Redd added that this time is especially important for those over the age of 65. That age range is the biggest concern for Redd when it comes to COVID-19.

“One of my biggest concerns is that we still need to be cautious and conservative around those that are vulnerable,” Redd said. “If you are 65 and over, you can’t become complacent and you have to have this on the forefront of your minds at all times. I think we have a few more weeks of this before things start to calm down.”

As for the next step, Redd said it should be to continue being cautious, take the precautions set out by the Utah Health Department and wash your hands regularly. With regard to a vaccine, Redd estimated that it would take at least a year.

Stock image. | Photo by
kovop58, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“I think that it’s going to circulate a lot more than what it had originally,” Redd said. “We need to make sure we’re not complacent when we’re around elderly and if you are elderly then you need to be cautious. As far as using a mask, washing your hands and social distancing, if I were a part of that population I would be working as hard as I can to keep that at the forefront of my mind. I don’t think it circulated anything close to what we thought and it’s only going to get worse over these next few months.”

The study also found the prevalence of COVID-19 in asymptomatic people is much lower than expected. Another finding was that COVID-19 could potentially trigger or increase autoimmune reactions and symptoms, causing long-term symptoms even after someone is considered “recovered.”

Another big thing Redd took from this study is that there is a learning curve for COVID-19.

“The one thing that we know about this is that things are changing every month,” Redd said. “We’re learning more and more every month. We know enough right now that we need to be cautious and we’re consistently learning and creating better strategies for this virus.”

Redd was complimentary of the job being done by the Utah Health Department and urged everyone to check their website regularly and follow the guidelines they have laid out.

Weekend editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of June 13, 2020, one-day increase in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 780 (41 new)
  • Washington County: 604 (26 new)
  • Iron County: 168 (15 new)
  • Garfield County: 4 
  • Kane County: 4 
  • Beaver County: 0

Deaths: 5 

  • Washington County: 4 
  • Iron County: 1

Hospitalized: 19 (3 new) 

Tested: 15,079 (1,100 new tests)

Recovered: 523 (8 new)

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

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