‘Swimming in omicron’: High demand forces early closure of St. George drive-thru COVID testing site

ST. GEORGE — A line of more than 200 cars stretching nearly a mile forced a stoppage to new cars being allowed to get in line for the free COVID-19 testing site on Tech Ridge five hours before closing on Monday.

A line of cars extends next to Dixie Tech to the drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Tech Ridge, wrapping around the Vasion building, St. George, Utah, Jan. 10, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In addition, a shifting of staff within the entire Intermountain Healthcare system to deal is forcing local InstaCare and Intermountain urgent care centers to run with depleted staff, causing longer wait times for fewer services.  

Just before 2 p.m., TestUtah announced that no more vehicles would be allowed to get in line for the free drive-thru testing site with hundreds of vehicles lined up from the converted shipping container that serves as the testing site, going up the entirety of Tech Ridge Drive and wrapping around the Vasion building.   

St. George Police were on hand to assist in traffic control with at least 200 vehicles with people waiting four to five hours according to police officials to receive their tests. There were also concerns the site may not have enough tests on hand for those remaining in line.

A sign leading to the TestUtah free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Tech Ridge, St. George, Utah, Dec. 30, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“They’re not able to keep up today,” St. George Police Officer Tiffany Mitchell said, adding that there are concerns with keeping enough of the streets on Tech Ridge clear for Dixie Tech, the Cliffside restaurant and the businesses on the original site of St. George Airport. “If it comes to tomorrow and it is a big turnout again, we will be on scene to help with traffic.”

The Tech Ridge site is one of the few in Southern Utah that provides free rapid antigen tests that provide results within 30 minutes but are also more likely to give a false negative than the PCR tests that take up to 72 hours for results. 

In Washington County, in addition to Tech Ridge, there are two sites in Hurricane that provide free rapid antigen tests, though one – run byTourHealth – is only open Mondays. Hurricane Valley Pharmacy, at 25 N. 2000 West, also offers walk-in rapid tests. 

Graphic showing 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah through Jan. 10, 2022. | Background photo by
mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

In Iron County, TourHealth offers a free drive-thru site with rapid tests in the parking lot of the Cedar Fun Center that is closed on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. The only other site in Southern Utah with free rapid tests available is Beaver Valley Hospital by appointment only.

If the line at Tech Ridge isn’t indication enough, the latest numbers provided by the Utah Department of Health provide evidence of the current scope of COVID-19 in Southern Utah. 

As far as the number of infections, the last five days have been the five worst of the pandemic in Southern Utah dating back to March 2020. And doctors say because of the prevalence of home tests that aren’t usually counted in official counts, that is an undercount. 

One of the top infectious disease specialists with Intermountain Healthcare said the highly infectious omicron virus means it’s no longer a matter of if local residents get COVID-19 or not, but whether they get it bad enough to be hospitalized. And he said a stay in the hospital is much more likely for the unvaccinated.

We can back off the idea of catching the virus or not. We’re swimming in omicron right now,” Dr. Todd Vento said. “Vaccines and boosters can keep you from being hospitalized.”

Vento added that “natural immunity” is no savior. He said additional studies in the last week show that having previously had other strains of COVID-19 offers little to no protection to preventing hospitalization from omicron.

There were 1,276 people in Southern Utah infected with COVID-19 over the weekend, according to the Utah Department of Health, but officials add that number is undercounting just as many, if not more, who have either tested positive on a home testing kit or not tested at all. 

According to officials with St. George Regional Hospital, over the weekend the facility managed to no longer be above capacity as a whole, but its intensive care unit was still far above the number of beds available, and most of the patients there were unvaccinated. 

Dr. Todd Vento, infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, seen during a Zoom teleconference on Jan. 10, 2022. | Zoom screenshot, St. George News

“If you’re in the ICU and have COVID, it’s much more likely you’re unvaccinated or under-vaccinated,” Vento said. 

Of the 244 patients in St. George Regional on Monday morning, 74 – or 30% – were COVID-19 patients. Over the weekend, seven locals were added to the 513 Southern Utahns who have died of COVID-19.

But officials at the hospital are quick to say that a problem right now isn’t whether all the beds are filled, but whether there is enough staff. Vento said in the last few days, 1,000 nurses and doctors and other staff across the Intermountain system have been out with COVID-19.

The domino effect of that is staff are being moved from all the Intermountain InstaCare and urgent care centers to the hospitals. 

“It means people are doing more with less,” Vento said. “We’re not delivering care we would have delivered.”

The InstaCare on Sunset Boulevard in St. George wasn’t vastly busy. There were empty spots in the parking lot and around four people sitting in the waiting room at noon on Monday.

The Intermountain InstaCare and Urgent Care on Sunset Boulevard, St. George, Utah, Jan. 10, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Even so, a front desk attendant said the wait was at least an hour to see a doctor. 

While Vento said those working at the hospital are beyond exhausted, they are not at a loss as to how the hospitals can see relief.

“Masks do prevent respiratory transmission regardless of what is put out on social media and we should do that,” Vento said. “What works are boosters and masks and not gathering together. The million-dollar question is: How you can get that done without offending people?”

That political battle came to a head in the Utah Capitol on Monday in a growing conflict between the state’s governor and the mayor of Salt Lake County and a question of whether an order from the state government supersedes that of a locality.

Gov. Spencer Cox said Monday that the Utah Capitol and other government buildings are exempt from a 30-day mandatory mask order in indoor buildings issued by the county on Friday. However, the mayor of Salt Lake County, Jenny Wilson, said Cox doesn’t have the authority to make such an exemption.

In the past, local officials in Southern Utah have questioned whether the governor is able to supersede orders made by local officials as far as the pandemic is concerned.

Southern Utah coronavirus count as of Monday, according to Utah Department of Health

Positive COVID-19 tests: 50,774 (7-day average of 392.4 per day, up 117.5% in last week)

Active cases: 4,467 (rising since Jan. 6)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 733.86 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising since Dec. 30
  • Iron County (High): 672.37, rising
  • Kane County (High): 416.98, rising
  • Garfield County (High): 356.44, rising
  • Beaver County (High): 384.56, steady

Hospitalized: 68 (rising, data not updated since Jan. 6)

Deaths: 513 (7 since Jan 6.)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Jan. 7): 410
  • Saturday (Jan. 8): 447
  • Sunday (Jan. 9): 458
  • Monday (Jan. 10: 371

Current Utah seven-day average: 7,768 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 119,346 (45.6% fully vaccinated, +0.01% since Jan. 6)

  • St. George: 49.15% fully vaccinated (+0.09%)  
  • Cedar City: 41.48% (+0.24%) 
  • Washington City: 44.71% (+0.14%) 
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 52.18% (+0.06%) 
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 39.02% (+0.07%)  
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 44.63% (+0.11%) 
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 44.67% (+0.15%)

Southern Utah schools with active COVID-19 infections as of Monday, according to Utah Department of Health

NOTE: Utah Department of Health currently provides only ranges of the number of infections in each district, rather than exact figures. Figures may be an overall undercount as not all infections among students are reported to the state.

    • Washington County School District: 118 to 187 (rising since Jan. 6)
    • Iron County School District: 35 to 53 (rising)
    • Kane County School District: 2-8 (steady)
    • Garfield County School District: 1-4 (rising)
    • Beaver County School District: 1-4 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 11-26 (rising)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 3-12 (rising)

Schools in yellow (In danger of moving to test-to-stay): None
Schools in red (Students/staff must test negative to attend): None
Top 5 schools: Snow Canyon High (Washington) 11 active infections, Crimson Cliffs High  (Washington) 10, Desert Hills High (Washington) 9, Cedar City High (Iron) 9, Canyon View High (Iron) 8, Pine View High (Washington) 8.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 5 and over. Those 5-18 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.
  • Those who can receive a booster dose: Those who received Pfizer or Moderna at least five months ago and are 12 or older. Those who received Johnson & Johnson at least two months ago and are 18 or older. Booster shots can be of any form of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department have returned to walk-in appointments. Some pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments. Check the links below before going.
  • Must wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.

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: Call (435) 673-6131 to determine if the vaccine is available.


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 Marketplace:

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: 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: 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, 2022, all rights reserved.

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