St. George firm opens free COVID self-testing site, plans to expand to Cedar City next week

ST. GEORGE — A homegrown St. George company is providing some relief to the long COVID-19 testing lines that have faced Southern Utahns in recent days.

A sign near a Trailblazer Bison directs drivers to the Soft Cell free COVID-19 test drive-thru at Dixie State’s Atwood Innovation Plaza, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Soft Cell Laboratories, a St. George biological research firm, has partnered with the Utah Department of Health to open on Wednesday a free, self COVID-19 testing site at Dixie State’s Atwood Innovation Plaza at 453 S. 600 East in St. George. An additional testing site is planned to open Monday at the Diamond Z Arena in Cedar City.  

The additional testing comes at the end of what has been the worst seven-day period of the entire pandemic in Southern Utah as far as new infections are concerned. In the last week, at least 3,781 people locally have been infected with COVID-19 according to the Utah Department of Health, though health officials caution that with home tests, that number is likely a vast undercount. 

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the effect of the infections won’t only be to the already-crowded St. George Regional Hospital.

“The likely impact of the omicron variant … might be an uptick in workers calling in sick over the next few weeks,” Heaton said. “A booster remains a good defense against omicron.”

Graphic showing 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah through Jan. 13, 2022. | Background photo by mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

A lot of those workers may need a negative test before returning to work. Soft Cell Chief Operating Officer Lisa Justesen said as a hometown company the local testing site was a chance for them to give back to their neighbors. 

“We’re trying to pay close attention to what the community needs and try to meet those needs so that people can get the testing as fast as they can and avoid those long lines and avoid the traffic snarls as well,” Justesen said.

Jyl Hall, spokesperson for Dixie State, said it was also an opportunity for the university to give back during the pandemic.

“DSU is providing this space as a service to the community, as our campus is centrally located in town and convenient for so many,” Hall said. “Plus, the existing drive-through round driveway is ideal for testing.”

There are a couple of differences between the free testing at the Soft Cell site compared to the free TestUtah testing site, also sponsored by the state’s health department, at St. George’s Tech Ridge that has been seeing nearly mile-long lines of cars this week with the omicron surge.

For one thing, organizers hope the site will not see the long lines of Tech Ridge by having people administer the test themselves. After pre-registering at the Soft Cell testing website, people will drive up, give their name and birth and be provided either a saliva or swab test, depending on preference. Then they’ll park nearby, take the test, and provide it back to a handler. 

Cars line up at the Soft Cell free test drive-thru at Dixie State’s Atwood Innovation Plaza, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Soft Cell and state officials said this is expected to keep peak waiting times to 20 minutes, rather than hours. On Thursday morning, the Soft Cell site in St. George had a line of about 10 cars while other cars were parked with people administering their own tests.

Also unlike the Tech Ridge site, the Soft Cell sites won’t provide the rapid antigen tests that provide results in no more than 30 minutes. However, because it is an in-town lab, they will be able to provide the more accurate PCR tests much quicker than the 48 to 72 hours it usually takes.

Instead, Justesen said results will be messaged to a person taking the test an average of 24 hours from when they take it, though results may be sooner than that. 

“We don’t have to drive it, transport it to Salt Lake or Denver or wherever else the testing facility is,” Justesen said. “We’re right here. We’re just transporting it from our collection facility a few miles to our laboratory.”

While still not as quick as an antigen test at Tech Ridge, it will be more thorough and accurate.  

A worker provides a COVID-19 test kit at the Soft Cell free test drive-thru at Dixie State’s Atwood Innovation Plaza, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the rapid antigen test has a 21.7% chance of a person with COVID-19 testing negative, the chance for a false negative is 2.8% with the PCR test. 

“If you get a negative antigen result, that doesn’t mean you’re actually negative. A PCR test is very, very accurate, but a little bit slower,” Justesen said. “You have to decide that as a patient, what is it that you need? If you’re going to go visit grandma, you may want to get a PCR test just to make sure that you are not spreading.”

The St. George testing site is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. The Cedar City drive-thru will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and closed on Sundays and Wednesdays. People need to pre-register for both sites, which can be accessed here.

High court on government vaccine mandates: No for businesses, yes for health care workers

In a pair of decisions made Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court said the government cannot force businesses to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the court ruled the government can force most health care workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

File screenshot of drone footage showing the bulk of protestors on near the intersection of River Road and Medical Center Drive, St. George, Utah, Nov. 6, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Andy Blazzard, St. George News

Utah, through the state’s Attorney General Sean Reyes, was a plaintiff in the business case before the court, which decided 6-3 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cannot require companies with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers either get vaccinated or wear masks and show negative COVID-19 test results once a week.

In a separate 5-4 decision, the high court ruled the government can require health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs to be vaccinated. 

Intermountain Healthcare, the parent of St. George Regional, Cedar City and Garfield Memorial hospitals had set Jan. 5 as the deadline for all of its employees to face termination if they weren’t in the process of receiving the vaccine or had a religious or disability exemption. 

That move drew hundreds of protesters outside the hospital on Nov. 6. It’s unclear how many employees were terminated because of the mandate, but with Thursday’s ruling, those terminations will stand. 

Michelle Tanner, an organizer of the protests, is a registered nurse who along with her own practice worked part-time at St. George Regional’s emergency room. She is also a St. George council member after being elected in November.

She said she was removed from the ER schedule in December after not getting vaccinated.

“I was subsequently fired for “not playing well in the sandbox,” Tanner said. “I have a private practice and do not work with (the Centers for Medicaid Services) thus I will not be affected by this new ruling. However, I am extremely disappointed for my colleagues around the country being negatively impacted and feeling the huge slap in the face.”

When asked for comment, officials with St. George Regional Hospital said a statement would be coming from Intermountain Healthcare. Lance Madigan, a spokesman with Intermountain, said, “While awaiting the outcome of national litigation regarding government requirements for COVID vaccinations, Intermountain and other major Utah medical providers paused the vaccine requirement for employees,” Madigan said. “We are awaiting details and guidance from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that all U.S. hospitals and clinics must comply with.”  

Tanner said she is unwilling to take the vaccine because of what she said are risks to taking it.

“I know many health care workers who are absolutely devastated by this violation of their human rights and bodily autonomy. They did not sign up to be part of a phase 4 clinical trial,” Tanner said. “Many of them have already had COVID which shows in many studies to be more protective than the vaccine as well as research showing increased risks with a second vaccination to those who have already had the virus.”

There have been dozens of peer-reviewed studies, including one involving 482,464 people, that determined that having had previously been infected with COVID-19 is less protective than being vaccinated — especially with a booster. There are also been peer-reviewed studies, including one of 96,000 people, that have said that as a newer variant, those who have previously had different strains of COVID like delta have no protection against omicron.

There is one study out of Israel that claimed that having had COVID-19 protected better against the delta variant, but that study has not been peer-reviewed. St. George News could find no study that said that there are additional risks to getting a COVID-19 booster, though the CDC said there are the same side effects produced by the body’s immune system going into overdrive such as temporary muscle pain, redness, headaches and fever.

Updated 12 p.m., Jan. 14, 2022: Additional comments from Intermountain Healthcare.

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

Positive COVID-19 tests: 51,659 (7-day average of 464.29 per day, up 114.8% in last week)

Active cases: 5,801 (rising since Jan. 12)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 1,537.48 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising since Jan. 6
  • Iron County (High): 1,707.33, rising
  • Kane County (High): 720.24, rising
  • Garfield County (High): 554.46, rising
  • Beaver County (High): 1,331.16, rising

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

Deaths: 515 (1 since Jan. 12)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Jan. 7): 410
  • Saturday (Jan. 8): 447
  • Sunday (Jan. 9): 458
  • Monday (Jan. 10): 371
  • Tuesday (Jan. 11): 387
  • Wednesday (Jan. 12): 657
  • Thursday (Jan. 13): 534

Current Utah seven-day average: 9,564 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 119,583 (45.7% fully vaccinated, +0.01% since Jan. 10)

  • St. George: 49.2% fully vaccinated (+0.05%)  
  • Cedar City: 41.53% (+0.05%) 
  • Washington City: 44.79% (+0.05%) 
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 52.23% (+0.04%) 
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 39.09% (+0.03%)  
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 44.73% (+0.02%) 
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 44.81% (+0.03%)

Southern Utah schools with active COVID-19 infections as of Thursday, 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: 183 to 249 (rising since Jan. 12)
    • Iron County School District: 55  to 70 (rising)
    • Kane County School District: 6 (steady)
    • Garfield County School District: 2-8 (steady)
    • Beaver County School District: 12-18 (rising)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 21-33 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 2-8 (falling)

Schools in yellow (In danger of moving to test-to-stay, 15-29 infections): Pine View High (Washington), Cedar City High (Iron), Crimson Cliffs High (Washington).
Schools in red (Students/staff must test negative to attend, 30 or more infections): None.
Top 5 schools: Pine View High (Washington) 18 active infections, Cedar City High (Iron) 16, Crimson Cliffs High (Washington) 15, Snow Canyon High (Washington) 13, Desert Hills High (Washington) 13.

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 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 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, 2022, all rights reserved.

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