ST. GEORGE — Volunteers from multiple agencies, including the St. George Fire Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare, gathered on Sunday to tear down the latter’s BLU-MED tents at St. George Regional Hospital.
The tents were erected in the heart of the hospital campus more than a year ago to help Intermountain Healthcare manage potential crises – namely, running out of intensive care unit beds as the result of surges in COVID-19 cases.
“They were there in case of overflow,” said St. George Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Esplin. “They were also used for mass vaccinations.”
The tents were ultimately never used for COVID-19 overflow as the hospital opted to use other floors of the main building when the ICU and the hospital itself ultimately did fill beyond capacity in December. The tents did serve a purpose as the COVID-19 vaccination site for hospital staff as well as members of the public.
Utah Department of Health’s director of specialty systems of care and education, Brett Cross, helped take down the tents as well. They were bought by the Utah Department of Health in 2008, Cross said.
“This is the longest amount of time that they’ve ever been deployed,” Cross said. “But it feels good to be taking them down.”
Cross said that it feels like a milestone. St. George News reached out to Intermountain Healthcare for comment but they did not immediately respond.
According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, the COVID-19 transmission level is moderate in Washington and Iron counties as infection rates have plateaued between 15 to 40 new infections per day.
Still, Cross said, it’s time for the tents to go.
“We’ll distribute them across the state,” Cross said. “One will stay here, while the others will go to Salt Lake City, Price, and Tremonton, respectively.”
In mid-April, the hospital marked the first time since the start of the pandemic where it had no COVID-19 patients in its ICU.
Cross and Esplin both agreed that it was time to remove the tents.
“The ICU isn’t full of COVID-19 patients,” Cross said. “This hospital, being a regional hub, had the potential to overflow. But it doesn’t seem likely right now.”
Esplin, who brought a crew of 20 firefighters to help with the load out, said he was glad to be there.
“This demobilization process is necessary,” he said. “There’s no need for these tents now, or for the foreseeable future. So, it’s time to move them, to make room for something else.”
St. George News Weekend Editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.
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