Long-term care centers leading local spike in COVID-19 infections; president transported to hospital

ST. GEORGE — As the nation woke up Friday to the news that COVID-19 has now reached the leader of the free world, Southern Utah is seeing signs of a new spike in infections, led by a large outbreak in many of the area’s long-term care centers. Meanwhile, the state had one of its highest number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in one day.  

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 Sept. 24, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department said there have been between 49 to 54 new infections in each of the last three days. The current spike is being led by outbreaks at five long-term care centers locally. 

The most serious current outbreaks are at two care centers in Hurricane – Haven at Sky Mountain and Hurricane Health and Rehabilitation. Each currently have more than five patients being treated for the virus. 

“That’s where we’re having outbreaks and those are our most vulnerable populations,” David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said. “That’s our major concern right now.”

Long-term care centers have also contributed to three of the five deaths due to the coronavirus that have taken place in Southern Utah over the last eight days. In all, 35 people have died locally from the virus since March, including 29 in Washington County. 

The state, as a whole, had more than half that number in one day Friday, with 15 new deaths reported by the state. However, Tom Hudachko, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health, said when the state or any other health agency reports COVID-19 deaths, it doesn’t mean each of those deaths happened in the last 24 hours.

“Deaths are a lagging indicator. Just as we anticipate increased hospitalizations to follow a surge in cases, we anticipate increased deaths to follow that surge as well.”

Utah Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Erik Christensen said in a statement that he has seen a “notable increase” in the number of COVID-related death investigations in the last few days.

Chart shows deaths and hospitalizations in Southern Utah from the coronavirus since Sept. 1 to Oct. 2, 2020 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“Let me be clear, these deaths are preventable,” Christensen said.

Back in Southern Utah, Dixie Regional Medical Center had been seeing a large surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last week. However, the last 24 hours have seen just as much a surge in discharges. The number of Southern Utahns hospitalized with the virus went from 15 on Thursday to five on Friday. 

Heaton said that is part of the unpredictable nature of the virus, which didn’t exist in humans a year ago. 

“That’s the nature of viruses,” Heaton said. “We’re just not sure sometimes how it spreads but it finds a way. We can’t stop the virus but we can slow the spread.”

Chart shows cases in Southern Utah from the coronavirus from May 1 to Oct. 2, 2020 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Based on the number of cases and the populations of the counties, 1.9 out of every 100 people in Washington County has had the virus, while 1.4 of every 100 in Iron County has dealt with a COVID-19 diagnosis. The results of those infections have ranged from no symptoms at all, to long-term breathing and fatigue problems to those who have lost their lives.  

And Heaton said there is a legitimate spike going on in just about all five local counties right now. 

“Iron County goes up and down,” Heaton said. “Some of our rurals that had zero are seeing more cases now.”

Eyes on the president

Beyond Southern Utah, thoughts have been toward the nation’s center of leadership in Washington D.C. where late Thursday President Donald Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus

The president was transported from the White House to Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Marine One Friday afternoon for what the White House said was for precautionary reasons. The Washington Post reports the president is experiencing symptoms that include a low-grade fever, a cough and nasal congestion.

The nation’s upper leadership in all three branches are now going through contact tracing, with more national leaders – including Utah Sen. Mike Lee – testing positive for the virus.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was in Washington D.C., on Tuesday for meetings with several federal officials. A spokesperson for the governor told St. George News he has not had contacts that warrant any extra protocols or precautions at this time.

He is routinely tested for COVID-19, including today, and he has tested negative,” Brooke Scheffler, public information officer for the governor, said. 

Herbert had meetings with Adm. Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary of health, and with Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Adm. Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary of health, left, speaks at an event with President Donald Trump on Sept. 28, 2020 at the White House in Washington D.C. | Photo courtesy The White House, St. George News

Giroir appeared with the president at an outdoor White House event on Monday. It is unclear when the president contracted the virus or was infectious. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on its website that someone who has close contact with someone with the virus for more than 15 minutes should quarantine themselves for 14 days after exposure and monitor for symptoms. This includes if masks were worn, as masks are more effective at allowing the virus to be transmitted from an infected person than keeping the virus from infecting someone. 

Cedar City Hospital’s Dr. Jarid Gray, who spent two weeks helping coronavirus patients in the New York City area, said an immediate negative test after exposure to an infected person doesn’t mean a person is in the clear, as the viral load might not be enough to show up on a test. 

“Optimal timing of testing is about five days after exposure. So I would say don’t test until five  days after exposure or onset of symptoms.”

File photo of doctor and nurse assistants working with a coronavirus patient. | Photo by keanu2, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

From a Southern Utah perspective, Heaton said the president’s illness is another warning for everyone to take precautions to prevent contracting the virus, including hand-washing, physical distancing and wearing masks when that distancing is not possible.

“It’s a good illustration this virus has found its way everywhere,” Heaton said. “No one is immune and no one can afford to be too lackadaisical about it.”

As far as those who have been more skeptical about the virus, Gray is skeptical himself that those who haven’t been practicing preventative measures are going to start now despite the president’s diagnosis. 

“They will start in the same camp they were before,” Gray said. “Unless he has a moderate to severe case. That may change the narrative for those who think the risk is overblown.”

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 Oct. 2, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 4,408 (34.9 new infections per day in seven days, rising)

  • Washington County: 3,449 (25.7 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 782 (6.8 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 85 (1.4 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 50 (0.3 per day, rising) 
  • Beaver County: 42 (0.6 per day, rising) 

Deaths: 35 (0.4 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 29 (4 new since last report: female, older than 85, long-term care facility resident; male, older than 85, long-term care facility resident; female, between 65-84, unknown status; male, between 65-84, long-term care facility resident)
  • Iron County: 3 (1 new since last report: female, between 65-84, hospitalized)
  • Garfield County: 2
  • Kane County: 1

Hospitalized: 5 (dropping)

Recovered: 3,673

Current Utah seven-day average: 945 (dropping)

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

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!