July starts with a drop in coronavirus hospitalizations in Southern Utah; state considers mask mandate

A sign saluting medical workers outside Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah on May 8, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After ending a June that was by far the worst month of the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern Utah, July has begun with a drop in hospitalizations among locals and, for the moment, what might be a brief reprieve from the cusp of capacity at Dixie Regional Medical Center.

Updated 11 p.m.: Additional info on Dixie Regional ICU remaining nearly full, updated Southern Utah numbers.

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

Hospitalizations, which had gone from averaging six per day to being as high as 24 a week ago, have gone down 29% in the last two days to 15 locals currently admitted to Dixie Regional Medical Center for the coronavirus as of Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the medical center said late Wednesday that while overall hospitalizations are down, the intensive care unit at the hospital remains two-thirds full.

The news comes a day after the death of one of the younger Washington County residents to have died of COVID-19.  

The Utah Department of Health announced Tuesday the death of a Washington County man between 18 and 44 years of age. St. George News has since learned the man was on the lower side of that age range.

There were 34 new cases announced by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department Wednesday. While that wouldn’t be considered a low number just a few weeks ago, it was still on the lower side compared to recent days when the case count has consistently been over 50. 

Medical experts say a one-day surge in cases is not necessarily a sign of a spike in cases. They will look for more of a consistent day-to-day increase in cases as a trend. In the same sense, a one-day drop in hospitalizations is not necessarily a sign of a gloomy June becoming a brighter July as far as the pandemic is concerned.

Chart shows the rise in cases in Southern Utah from the coronavirus in June 2020 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. Click to enlarge. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News

On the contrary, with Sunday having the most new cases since the pandemic started, all signs are of it just being the eye of the storm.

“ICU admissions and deaths are all lagging indicators,” Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director of Dixie Regional Medical Center, said last week. “It takes about a week for cases to translate to hospitalizations. Then it takes time to see the ICU increase, then it takes time to see deaths increase. We don’t want to be flat-footed because we haven’t seen an increase in deaths and say we’re OK.”

In June, the number of those infected with the virus went up 320% in Washington County (from 374 to 1,198) and 399% in Iron County (from 74 to 295). Despite Kane, Garfield and Beaver counties moving into a green risk status, the month also saw the virus finally hit Southern Utah’s rural areas with a 350% increase in cases in Garfield County (from four to 14 cases).

More ominously, deaths in Southern Utah from the coronavirus were up 275% (from four to 11) in June.

Governor open to making masks mandatory

The new Southern Utah numbers aren’t reflective of what continues to be an increase statewide. According to the Utah Department of Health, the state had 499 new cases and 32 new hospitalizations.

FILE – In this April 15, 2020, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wears a mask during a news conference at Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

In a memo obtained by St. George News last week, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said if the state did not reach a rolling average of 200 cases per day by July 1, she would recommend to Gov. Gary Herbert that the state raise it’s coronavirus risk level back to orange. Doing so would potentially limit restaurants in the number of people who could dine in and limit gatherings to 20 or less.  

Herbert announced last week that there will be no changes to the coronavirus risk level anywhere in Utah until July 8. However, he said Wednesday for the first time that he is open to making wearing face coverings or masks mandatory statewide.

Fox13Now.com reported Herbert said he will be meeting with state legislators to reach a consensus on whether there will be a mandate for masks. Several studies and medical experts say the more people that wear masks, the more the coronavirus can be brought under control.

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of July 1, 2020, one-week increase in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 1,553 (353 new in a week)

  • Washington County: 1,228 (292 new)
  • Iron County: 295 (52 new)
  • Garfield County: 15 (4 new) 
  • Kane County: 6
  • Beaver County: 9 (5 new) 

Deaths: 11 (1 new)

  • Washington County: 9 (1 new)
  • Iron County: 1
  • Garfield County: 1

Hospitalized: 15 (9 less) 

Tested: 21,018 (3,253 new tests)

Recovered: 886 (101 new)

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

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