Washington County moves back up to ‘moderate’ in COVID-19 alert level, officials not alarmed

ST. GEORGE — A week after being moved to the lowest alert level in the state’s COVID-19 Transmission Index, an uptick in new infections has moved Washington County back up to the “moderate” level. And the recent increase in infections in Iron County now has it as the second-highest COVID-19 infection rate in the state.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 22, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

However, both the governor and the state’s epidemiologist, in her last weeks on the job, said Thursday that they are not alarmed and also indicated it does not have anything to do with the state’s mask mandate lifting 12 days ago.

“There is not a concern. This is a normal fluctuation off a plateau” Gov. Spencer Cox said in response to a question from St. George News at his weekly COVID-19 press conference. “This is just a reminder that the pandemic is not over. This is where we encourage people to take this seriously. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, get vaccinated.”

A week ago, the governor touted that the virus “doesn’t exist much” in Washington County upon announcing it was among the counties in the state to move from moderate to low in the index. However, Washington County moved back up after having its 14-day case rate per 100,000 people go from 97.43 to 112.08. The most immediate change for Washington County moving back into moderate is restaurants are again under public health order to require distancing of 6 feet or more in waiting areas. Also, gyms and fitness centers are recommended to have physical distancing throughout their facilities as are other businesses, though it is not required from the state. 

Dr. Angela Dunn, who announced earlier in the week that she will be leaving her position as state epidemiologist on June 1 to lead the Salt Lake County Health Department, said there was not a specific reason why Washington and other counties in the state have seen infections increase in the last week.

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 April 22, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“We haven’t been able to identify specific reasons, but the tried and true ways to stop it still apply,” Dunn said. “Get vaccinated and when out and about, wear masks when distancing is not possible.”

The state mandate to wear masks or face coverings ended on April 10, but Dunn insisted that is not a reason for increased infection rates in parts of the state, including Southern Utah. 

“We’ve not seen a tremendous impact from the mask mandate ending,” Dunn said. “From what I’ve seen, our individual preventative measures are still having an impact.” 

Salt Lake City, the one area in Utah that has maintained a mask mandate even after the state ended its mandate, has seen its daily average of new infections go down from 19.9 to 14.9 since April 10. 

St. George had 12 new infections Thursday according to the Utah Department of Health, a far cry from the high of 312 in one day set in December. 

While overall, Washington County has retaken the lead overall from Iron County as far as new infections per day, Cedar City continues to outpace St. George despite half the population of the bigger city to the south, with 16 new infections Thursday. 

In Southern Utah, hospitalizations of those with COVID-19 have remained in the single-digits – with nine as of Thursday – a week after St. George Regional Hospital said it for a time had no COVID-19 patients in its intensive care unit. The death of a hospitalized Iron County woman between 65 and 84 years old on Wednesday, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, was the first Southern Utah COVID-19 death in two weeks. 

Dunn said one thing that has been on the rise statewide has been the COVID-19 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.

“Now, 50% of new cases are the U.K. variant, which is easier to transmit,” Dunn said. 

Southern Utah has seen what had been one occurrence of the U.K. variant two weeks ago become 32 – a 3,200% increase – according to the Utah Department of Health. 

Cox said there is a quick, easy and painless way to quickly bring down new infections of COVID-19 in Washington County: Go outside more. 

“Outside is a great place to be. If you’re outside and not in large groups, you don’t need to wear masks,” Cox said. “And there are few places better to be outside than Washington County.”

Vaccine demand waning

With the COVID-19 vaccine now having been available to every Utahn since March 24, 52% of Utahns have received at least one dose of the vaccine according to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who is leading the state’s vaccine efforts.

A resident receives a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 second-dose vaccination clinic on April 6, 2021. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But getting there may have been the easy part, as those vaccinated have been those eager to get it. But Dunn said many of those remaining to be vaccinated either have been those skeptical to get the vaccine or have waited thinking that others needed to get the vaccine first. 

While health officials say there may be no kind of convincing on the so-called “anti-vaxxers,” the governor said the state and its health department will concentrate on those who have waited because they felt they needed to wait for others to get it first. 

“For those waiting for everyone else, this is your time,” Cox said. “We have ample doses.”

Another focus will be on reaching the hard-to-reach communities or those who may have not had a way to get to a vaccination site. 

One big way is the state, with the aid of Blue Cross, is now offering free rides to and from vaccinations through Lyft.

“This is an effort to get to underserved people,” Henderson said.

To get a free Lyft ride to get vaccinated, people need to call 211.  

Dunn, for her part, hasn’t given up on those who say they won’t get the vaccine at all.

“I encourage you to reach out to your doctors, pharmacists and those you know who have received the vaccine,” Dunn said. “Because this is the way we end the pandemic.”

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 vaccinefinder.org 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, though some pharmacies are offering walk-up appointments.
  • 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.
  • To receive a free ride to and from a vaccine appointment through Lyft, call 211.

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

Rocky Vista University:

Where: Rocky Vista University – Southern Utah Campus,  255 E. Center St. in Ivins.

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

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use vaccinefinder.org to find a location near you

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, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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