St. George Regional Hospital nearly at capacity as governor declares new COVID-19 surge

ST. GEORGE — The medical director of St. George Regional Hospital said Thursday that the hospital and its intensive care unit are nearing capacity as the governor and health officials said the same day that the state is experiencing a new surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

St. George Regional Hospital seen on March 13, 2021. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Dr. Patrick Carroll said the hospital is “very close” to being full again, and there is the possibility within the next few weeks that like the worst days of the pandemic, the ICU will need to be expanded into a surge ICU to accommodate more patients.

“We still have the ability to surge out of our normal ICU space,” Carroll told St. George News. “Could that happen? Yes. Are we close to it? Yes. But it has not happened yet.”

Southern Utah, in particular, is currently seeing infection and hospitalization numbers higher now than they were at this time a year ago during the midst of lockdowns and the pandemic. 

On July 1 of 2020, according to the Utah Department of Health, there were 34 new infections of COVID-19 in Southern Utah and 15 locals hospitalized with the virus.

On Thursday, there are 41 new infections locally and 29 locals hospitalized with the virus.

But health officials and the governor agree that there is a big difference between COVID-19 now versus COVID-19 a year ago: They say the current infections and hospitalizations are all avoidable with the vaccine readily available. 

St. George Regional Hospital Medical Director Dr. Patrick Carroll speaks alongside Emergency Department Operations Director Jared Stevens at the groundbreaking of the Hurricane Campus of St. George Regional Hospital on June 16, 2021 Hurricane, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“This is the first time we’ve had cases climbing when we have a way to stop them from climbing,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a press conference in the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday. 

The governor cited new Utah Department of Health numbers that say of all the new COVID-19 cases in Utah between May 1 and June 25, 93% of new infections have been in unvaccinated individuals, while 95% of those hospitalized didn’t have the vaccine. Of the 171 COVID-19 deaths in Utah since May 1, five were vaccinated. 

“Ninety-five percent of you don’t have to die, and 95% of you don’t have to be hospitalized,” Cox said. “I’m continuing to hear from families who believed some crazy conspiracy theories and refused to be vaccinated and are now dead or have long-hauler symptoms. They are completely unnecessary. There’s no more excuses for deaths.”

At St. George Regional, Carroll said he has been alarmed by the COVID-19 deaths he now sees. While during the worst of the pandemic, when most of the deaths were those 65 and over, those dying in Southern Utah now aren’t as likely to be sporting gray hair. Most deaths now are people in their 20s to 50s.

“These are patients that are leaving children behind. These are patients that are not retired, still in the working years of their lives,” Carroll said. “It breaks my heart when I see the deaths we are seeing in the younger population and it is preventable with the vaccine.”

Chart shows the daily number of new COVID-19 cases split between those unvaccinated in orange and vaccinated in green as of June 28, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

According to the Utah Department of Health, 82% of people 65 and over in the state are fully vaccinated. That number goes down the younger the age demographic to 57% of those 40-49 years of age, 50% of those 30-39 and 44% of those 20-29. 

Vaccines can now be received as walk-ins at just about every location that provides them, including at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department offices. 

Hospitals throughout the state are also dealing with staffing shortages, as many of the programs that were in place last year to help expand hospital staffs are not now. The return of a nearly full hospital is also taxing to a staff that thought this would be a summer vacation. 

“Staffing is difficult. Our staff has worked really hard and during the top of the pandemic in the winter, the troops rallied and did a phenomenal job. The expectation, spoken or unspoken, was that in the summer things would be better and we could exhale,” Carroll said. “We have not been able to exhale.”

Adding to the strain on hospital capacity are a number of patients who had delayed care waiting out the pandemic now getting procedures.

Unlike last winter, the hospital cannot expand the number of beds at the hospital without a state waiver, as there is no longer an emergency declared by the state government, and there is a great deal of resistance from the state Legislature that now has more power over the governor’s emergency powers after recent legislation passed. 

And on Thursday, the governor was resistant toward any possibility to a return of emergency orders or a new mask mandate. 

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 1, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

“It won’t make a difference. We have an answer for this … it isn’t restrictions or to force people to wear masks, the answer is the vaccine.” 

The governor had considered creating state monetary incentives to get vaccinated, similar to those that have increased vaccination rates in other states. However, Cox was rebuffed by legislative leaders who are against such incentives … though Cox noted Thursday, “Not dying is a great incentive.”

When it was pointed out that many of those unvaccinated are those who are resistant to getting one, Cox said he hasn’t given upon trying to convince them otherwise. 

“We’re going to do everything we can to change minds,” Cox said in response to St. George News. “As human beings, we’re bad at prioritizing risk. We’ve had people who have over dramatized the risk and now have people who misunderstand the risk of harm from the vaccine versus the harm of not getting the vaccine. It’s incredible to watch some of the mental gymnastics of people convincing themselves not to get the vaccine over getting the vaccine.”

Carroll echoed the expectation that as far as protecting themselves from COVID-19, people are on their own at this point. “We’ve shifted from a societal responsibility to a personal responsibility to take care of ourselves,” he said.

Safely celebrating the Fourth

Most of the new surge, according to the Utah Department of Health, is coming from the delta variant first detected in India. Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the department, said many of the outbreaks are stemming from unvaccinated children attending overnight summer events, catching the virus and then spreading it to more susceptible adults. 

Fireworks over Beaver, Utah, on July 4, 2020. | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“What’s happening now is a microcosm of what will happen when we return to school in the fall,” Hofmann said, though she added, “In the end, vaccination is the answer to all of the challenges we face.”

In Southern Utah, according to health department statistics, there has been a 42.4% increase in the infection rate in the last week that has included Garfield County seeing its first COVID-19 infection since May.

The Centers for Disease Control said each of the vaccines are as effective against the delta variant as the others, and those vaccinated have no need to wear masks or take preventative measures. 

But those unvaccinated are 60% more susceptible to the delta variant than other variants. 

With a new surge in COVID-19 infections, health officials and the governor said those who are vaccinated don’t have much to worry about as far as attending Fourth of July events. They don’t say the same as far as those who are unvaccinated.

“If you’re unvaccinated, you should be very worried this Fourth of July,” Cox said. “I wouldn’t want to hang around a lot of unvaccinated people on July 4.”

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 12 and over. Those 12-18 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.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department and most pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments.
  • Must wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • To receive a free ride to and from a vaccine appointment through Lyft, call 211.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S. 400 East, St George

For hours and more information: Click here 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Kane County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

Garfield County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

Beaver County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

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.

For hours and more information:: Click here

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: 275 S River Rd. in St. George.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register


Where: 2610 Pioneer Rd. in St. George, 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use 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, LLC, 2021, 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!