Many COVID-19 restrictions lift in Washington County, vaccine eligibility expands to some high-risk

ST. GEORGE — As far as restaurants and bars are concerned in Washington County, physical distancing of patrons is no longer required. That comes after Washington County moved to the “moderate” level of the Utah COVID-19 Transmission Index on Thursday.  

Gov. Spencer Cox gestures with his mask, predicting that he would no longer need to wear one on July 4 as he spoke during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 25, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

And amid continuing signs like that of both reduced number of COVID-19 infections and more people getting vaccinated, Gov. Spencer Cox predicted that when American flags are waving and fireworks give their red glare on July 4, the people watching below will no longer need to be wearing masks to protect themselves and each other against COVID-19.

“I’m telling you. I’m not going to be wearing this on the 4th of July,” Cox said gesturing to his mask at his weekly COVID-19 press conference at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City. “And I’m going to be in a parade somewhere and we’re going to put them in fireworks or burn them. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit I’m wrong and we’ll adjust.” 

Cox set an optimistic tone in the press conference, including once again expanding the eligibility of those who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine a week early. Immediately, people with some high-risk health conditions and comorbidities are eligible for the vaccine.

But with that optimism also came caution. He also said that there was a way his July 4 prediction will not come to pass: If people take the reduction of some COVID-19 restrictions as a green light to ignore all restrictions in place to stem any new surge such as the wearing of masks. Cox said it is important to let people know that the finish line is near so they don’t let up before crossing the finish line.

“Governments exist to protect people, but at some point that changes where people need to take the precautions themselves. One of the main reasons the number has gone down has been people have been doing better behaviors,” Cox said, noting that the one-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic in Utah is approaching. “Everyone is ready for this to be over. There is so much fatigue. I get it. But it’s important for us not to give up on things that have worked when we’re so close. It is important for us to keep doing what works now so we don’t have to do it again.” 

As part of that finish line, the Utah Department of Health earlier this week announced the criteria for when the mask mandate would end. According to the new health order, there are two criteria for the mask mandate to be lifted:  The state needs to reach 70%, or 1,633,000 residents receiving at least a first dose of the vaccine, while a county can end the mask mandate once it is at a low transmission level in the COVID-19 Transmission Index. 

Graphic showing the restrictions under the revised Utah COVID-19 Transmission Index as of Feb. 25, 2021. | Background photo by Pixabay, graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

As of Thursday, 430,918 Utahns have received a first dose. With vaccine supply expected to keep accelerating, Cox said he expects the 70% threshold to be reached by mid-May.

In Southern Utah, Garfield County remains the one area at a low transmission rate a week after first reaching that level.

Washington County joined Garfield on Thursday as the local counties seeing lower transmission rates, and thus fewer restrictions. According to the Utah Department of Health, Washington County now has a test positivity rate of 7.29% and 313.2 people infected with the virus for every 100,000 in population – down from 9.21% and 414.1 the week before.

By moving into the moderate level, restaurants and bars in Washington County no longer are required to have 6 feet between tables, though 6 feet still needs to be maintained in waiting areas and masks must be worn when the patrons aren’t eating.  

There are also restrictions that have been lifted in Washington County for live events like movies and live theater, and sporting events. Distancing of 6 feet no longer needs to be maintained between audience members, though masks must continue to be worn, and food and drink concessions must remain closed. In low transmission areas like Garfield County, concessions can be opened.

There are no changes for fitness centers in Washington County. Unlike low transmission areas, gyms and fitness centers in moderate areas must maintain 6-foot physical distancing. 

Health officials caution that while distancing is no longer required in places like Washington County, it is still recommended, while the wearing of masks remains required.

And while she said she echoes the governor’s optimism about a mask-less Utah by July, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said getting there will depend if people maintain the behaviors that she said have driven the substantial drop in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the last month. 

“It’s certainly possible to get there,” Dunn said of a mask-less July 4. “But to get to that point, we need to keep doing things like wearing masks and distancing. We are not at the point where the vaccine alone will prevent a surge.”

Kane County has worst numbers in the state

While people in Washington County can celebrate some progress against the coronavirus, one area that is far from seeing restrictions lifted is Kane County. With 30 new cases on Tuesday alone, the county had nearly as many new infections as the much more populated Iron County.

Kane County Jail, Kanab, Utah, Dec. 23, 2016 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

According to the Utah Department of Health, Kane County has a 31.31% test positivity rate and 1,258.3 infections per 100,000 – both the worst numbers in the state in each category.

But in the case of Kane County, even those bleak numbers, may be deceiving. Much of it, according to a statement by Alan Alldredge of Kane County Emergency Services, can be attributed to an outbreak at the Kane County Jail in Kanab.

“The Kane County Jail was one of the last facilities in the state to remain COVID-free. However, despite our rigid safety protocols, on Feb. 2, we had our first COVID-19 positive test within the inmate population,” Alldredge said. “Since many of the 176 inmates live in a dorm-style section, as anticipated the virus spread quickly.”

As of last Friday, 59 of the 71 active COVID-19 cases in Kane County were inmates at the jail,  Alldredge said. According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, as of Wednesday there were 108 active cases in Kane County, which has a population of 7,484 according to U.S. Census figures. 

Some with high-risk conditions now eligible for vaccine

A list of medical conditions that now qualify people to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of Feb. 25, 2021. | Photo courtesy of Utah Office of the Governor, St. George News | Click to enlarge

A week after moving up the eligibility timetable for those ages 65-69 to receive the vaccine, Cox made those with some high-risk health conditions immediately eligible to receive the vaccine.

The governor also removed the restriction where people could only receive the vaccine in the county they reside in, though residents will still need to receive both shots in the same location. 

Those with the following high-risk conditions are now eligible to receive the vaccine as long as they are ages 18 or over:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients.
  • Having had certain cancers.
  • Immunocompromised state including HIV.
  • Severe kidney disease.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Obese with a body mass index greater than 40.
  • Hepatitis sufferer.
  • Chronic heart disease, but not high blood pressure.
  • Lung disease besides asthma.
  • Downs syndrome or cerebral palsy.
  • Those who have had strokes or dementia.
  • Those with sickle-cell anemia.

In addition, the Federal Drug Administration has now approved the Pfizer vaccine for those 16-18 years of age. Those in that age group with one of the eligible health conditions can receive the vaccine as long as it is the Pfizer vaccine.

That may be difficult in Southern Utah, where the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is only providing the Moderna vaccine at its clinics. 

However, as vaccine supplies are going up, so are the number of providers outside the local health department providing the vaccine. 

In this file photo, the Albertsons supermarket in St. George, Utah, is seen on March 29, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Albertsons pharmacies in St. George and Washington City this week joined local Smiths Food and Drug and Walmart outlets providing the vaccine. And Albertsons, which has vaccine appointments available for the first week of March, is currently the only Southern Utah outlet providing Pfizer. 

Also providing Pfizer is another provider, national vaccine provider Nomi Health, which is providing the Pfizer vaccine in a partnership to hold mass vaccination clinics at Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres.

Mass clinics are already scheduled for Megaplex Theaters in northern Utah. However, a spokesperson for Nomi Health told St. George News they were not sure if or when similar mass vaccine clinics will be held at Megaplex theaters in the St. George and Cedar City areas. 

Another option coming on is the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which is within a week of FDA approval. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is taken in one dose, rather than two. Dunn said that means it will be more likely to be used in hard-to-reach areas as well as pop-up mobile clinics. 

There are other differences from the vaccines already out there: Unlike the other two, which utilize a manufactured mRNA protein, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine could be called an “old school” vaccine using an inert version of the virus. That makes the new vaccine harder to manufacture but easier to transport without having to be refrigerated.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, with the Utah Department of Health, speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 25, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

Another clear difference is it is slightly less effective than Pfizer and Moderna: 80% effective at preventing disease as opposed to the 92% of Pfizer and 95% of Moderna. 

However, Dunn said other than 16- to 18-year-olds, there is no reason for people to be shopping around for a particular vaccine thus far, as all of the vaccines – including Johnson and Johnson – have proven 100% effective at keeping COVID-19 from causing death or hospitalization. 

“It’s apples and oranges,” Dunn said. “There is no reason to choose one over the other.”

That said, Cox said between assurances from the federal government and manufacturers, there is a lot of vaccine on the way, and before the start of the summer, anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it.

“In a few weeks, we’re going to have more vaccine than we know what to do with,” Cox said. “I think we are underselling the positivity of what is out there.”

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 65 and over; K-12 teachers and staff; those that work in nonhospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices); and first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs; Those with the following health conditions – Transplant recipients, having had certain cancers, immunocompromised state including HIV, severe kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes, obese with a body mass index greater than 40, hepatitis, chronic heart disease, but not high blood pressure, lung disease besides asthma, downs syndrome or cerebral palsy, those who have had strokes or dementia, sickle-cell anemia.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID (if necessary) and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency is required, though as of Feb. 25 a person does not have to reside in the county they are receiving the vaccine. Part-time residents can get vaccinated with proof of residency.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • Those without email addresses or unable to make reservations online can get help at a specialized hotline at 435-986-2549.

Washington County:

Where: St. George Active Life Center, 245 N. 200 West, St George

Reservations: Click to register 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Drive, Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register 

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab.

Reservations: Click to register 

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch.

Reservations: Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 745 N Dixie Dr in St. George and 915 Red Cliffs Dr. in Washington City.

Reservations: Click to register

Smith’s Food and Drug:

Where: 20 N. Bluff St. and 565 S. Mall Drive in St. George and 633 S. Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

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.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Feb. 25, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 26,601 (67.4 new infections per day in seven days, rising since Feb. 19)

  • Note: County numbers are as of Wednesday.
  • Washington County: 19,984 (40.6 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 4,954 (16.6 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 528 (7.1 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 416 (1.6 per day, rising)
  • Beaver County: 640 (2.1 per day, rising)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of Southern Utah numbers):

  • Note: Totals are two-day totals
  • St. George: 54 (steady)
  • Washington City: 15 (rising)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 8 (falling)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 2 (falling)
  • Cedar City: 30 (falling)

Deaths: 224 (1 per day, falling)

  • Washington County: 178 (2 new since last report: Female over 85 at home, long-term care female 65-84)
  • Iron County: 30 (1 new: Male 65-84 at home)
  • Garfield County: 9 
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 4

Hospitalized: 21 (steady)

Active cases: 1,532 (falling)

Current Utah seven-day average: 723 (falling)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 55,050 (+13,800)

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 31,361 (+2,043)

Number of fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 15,581 (+2,407)

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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