Southern Utah sees COVID-19 decline; governor announces compensation for funeral expenses

ST. GEORGE — As Kane and Garfield counties qualify to have restrictions reduced and the vaccine now available to every Utahn age 16 and above, there are growing signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning in Southern Utah. 

In this Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, people wait outside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic, St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But as a reminder of the toll COVID-19 has had, the governor announced Thursday that a program to compensate people for funeral expenses related to COVID-19 deaths will be made available next month.

A downward trend for the last few weeks reached a new level Thursday, as Washington County came close to being moved to the “low” level of the COVID-19 Transmission Index, which would allow for all COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted except for the mandate to wear masks in public places. 

While the Centers for Disease Control warned of nationwide indications that the virus may be on the comeback, even as vaccines are having an affect on new infections, the data indicates that is not the case for Southern Utah or the state at large, which has seen a substantial drop in both the number of those infected and the percentage of those who test positive for COVID-19. 

According to the Utah Department of Health, the number of those infected with the virus has gone down 31% in Washington County (219 per 100,000 to 151.4) and 16% in Iron County (278.5 to 235) in the last 14 days. 

But health experts have said the bigger indication of where the pandemic is and what is to come is test positivity, which at its worst reached above 30% locally. 

Map shows the current level of each county in Utah according to the COVID-19 Transmission Index provided by the Utah Department of Health as of March 25, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

At this point, the percentage of tests coming back positive are 3.33% in Washington County and 2.58% in Iron County, according to the Utah Department of Health. Health officials have previously said one indication that the spread of the virus is stable is when the positivity rate is around 5%. And the low rate being seen statewide put a smile on the face of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn during the weekly state COVID-19 press conference.

“Our leading indicator is test positivity,” Dunn said. “We need to continue this.”

There are other indicators and factors that favor a continued downward trend for COVID-19 in Southern Utah.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who is heading vaccination efforts for Gov. Spencer Cox, said Thursday that 80% of those 65 and older in Utah have had at least their first vaccination shot, which is significant for Southern Utah, which has some of the oldest population in the state. 

There are also signs that a recent effort to increase vaccine supply in Southern Utah is paying off.

Even after vaccine eligibility opened up to everyone 16 and older in Utah on Wednesday, there remain open vaccination slots locally (see the end of this story for links to reserve a vaccination spot).   

Even with most of the news on the COVID-19 front seemingly positive in the last few weeks, there is still a worry from those at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department that with reduced restrictions and reduced new infections, residents may still be letting up too soon. 

“We get more optimistic the more we see this goes down, but we still see it circulating,” said David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. “It is still spreading we can still go back up.”

Kane, Garfield counties see big surge down

While test positivity has not changed in two weeks in Garfield County, a 69% drop in the number of infected (767.7 to 315 per 100,000) there had the county move back into the less restrictive moderate level of the COVID-19 Transmission Index three weeks after the home of Panguitch went from the lowest level to high.

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

Going from the high to moderate level in the transmission index means restaurants and theaters are no longer under state restrictions on seating and larger events are permitted. However, the state still recommends keeping such distancing in place. 

The only county in Southern Utah that is high at this point is Beaver County, which is still at 15% test positivity. 

Last June, Beaver was the last county in Southern Utah to see it’s first COVID-19 infection. At this point, unless there is an upsurge down south, it may be the last to deal with the worst of it. 

But a big change in test positivity was the data needed to turn Kane County from consistently having some of the worst numbers in the state over the last month to moving into moderate Thursday.

Kane County has gone from a state-high 23.13% test positivity last week to 9.52% this week. An even bigger change has been a 77% drop in the infection rate in the last two weeks (from 856.1 per 100,000 to 192.2).

Southwest Utah Public Health Department officials attributed much of the problem in Kane County to an outbreak at its county jail. Last Friday, the Kane County Commission drew some pushback from the local health department and the state after declaring that the statewide mask mandate no longer applies.

The local and state health department, as well as the governor’s office, all said that the statewide order to wear masks in public settings remains in Kane County as well as the rest of the state. 

Even so, on Wednesday Cox signed separate bills Wednesday that will end the mask mandate except in schools on April 10 and also reduce his and the Utah Department of Health’s authority to continue emergency orders beyond 30 days without legislative approval. 

Vaccines available for just about everyone

The declining numbers of new infections, as well as new indications hospitalizations are under control, has Cox feeling, he said, that COVID-19 restrictions may not be necessary soon in any case.

Gov. Spencer Cox receives his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. March 25, 2021, in Spanish Fork, Utah | | Photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press, St. George News

“Given the trajectory we’re on, which can change, we expect the health restrictions to be gone before July,” said Cox, who added that his optimism is based on vaccine availability and supply expected to increase even more in the upcoming weeks.

Cox also said his optimism was concurred by President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he met with this week.

“Even if we do see an increase of cases, our high percentage of vulnerable population vaccinated means we won’t see a surge,” he said.  

Cox held the weekly press conference at a vaccination site in Spanish Fork, where he and his wife received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine (in this case, the Pfizer vaccine). 

Cox acknowledged Thursday that the area of the state where residents have had the toughest time getting a vaccination slot has been Southern Utah. But, he added, that has changed.

“It was the hardest place to get an appointment because of the older population there,” Cox said. “So we moved more vaccines south and now that’s flipped.” 

Indeed, while the opening of vaccine eligibility for all Utahns has caused reservation availability issues in some northern Utah counties, there are still plenty of vaccine reservations open in Southern Utah – something unheard of just a few weeks ago. 

A resident receives her Pfizer vaccine Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Spanish Fork, Utah | Photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press, St. George News

“We love to see the amount of supply we have been getting even as we have seen demand level off a bit,” Heaton said. 

Along with supply comes even more options for Southern Utahns to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including for hard-to-reach populations. 

Last week, the state health department held a mobile clinic for the local Pacific Islander community in St. George where, according to the lieutenant governor, 280 people were vaccinated. 

Revere Health announced this week that it is starting vaccinations at its new St. George campus near Dinosaur Crossing and Lin’s Marketplace locations throughout Southern Utah are also now offering vaccination appointments. 

Compensation for funeral expenses

Even as the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” approaches, there are still the faded lights of the more than half a million Americans, including 255 Southern Utahns, who were killed by COVID-19. 

Stock image by kzenon/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Cox announced Thursday that a sign-up process will begin in April for Utahns who have lost a loved one to receive compensation for expenses they have sustained.

There were few other details released by the governor, though St. George News has learned it will be through a program being set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency off funds from the coronavirus relief package recently passed by Congress, and the funds are to be strictly used for funeral expenses.  

The compensation, of up to $9,000 for one funeral or a maximum of $35,500 for multiple funerals, is retroactive to January 2020.

“We’re announcing this now so that people can get their documents together,” Cox said.

Cox said documentation that will be needed will include a death certificate showing COVID-19 as the cause of death, funeral expense documents and proof of funds received.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 16 and over. Those 16-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use to find clinics that have the Pfizer vaccine.
  • 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 and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency may be required, though 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.
  • To get alerts for when new vaccine appointments are added with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, text SWUHEALTH to 888777.

Washington County:

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

Reservations: Click to register 

Iron County:

Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Wedgewood Lane, 2015 N Wedgewood Lane, 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

St. George Regional Hospital/Intermountain Healthcare:

Where: 400 East Campus St. George Regional Hospital,  544 S. 400 East, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

FourPoints Health:

Where: Various locations.

Reservations: Click to register

Revere Health:

Where: Revere Health Campus,  2825 E. Mall Drive, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register


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

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 1189 E. 700 South in St. George and 3520 Pioneer Parkway in Santa Clara.

Reservations: Click to register

Lin’s Marketpace:

Where: 1930 W. Sunset Blvd.  and 2928 E. Mall Drive in St. George, 1120 State St. in Hurricane and 150 N Main St. in Cedar 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, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane 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.

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

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