Southern Utah sets new 1-day record for COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah set a new record for the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the area on Thursday.

According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, there are now 30 local residents hospitalized with the coronavirus and there are 90 new COVID-19 infections in Southern Utah. Both are one-day highs since the first positive test in Southern Utah on March 21

The sharp rise in local infections comes a day after a new emergency public health order went into effect statewide that, at least for the next two weeks, made face coverings mandatory in Washington, Iron and Garfield counties and limited social gathering to 10 or fewer people. Restaurants and other businesses are allowed to remain open as long as masks are required for all customers.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told St. George News the health department will be relying more on the marketplace to enforce the mask mandates than on law enforcement or public health officers. 

“We would hope that individuals and businesses do their part with precautions,” Heaton said. “Businesses would likely take a bigger hit from lost business due to lack of safety than a citation, which would ultimately involve law enforcement and have been unheard of in Utah.”

Graphic showing 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah through Oct. 15, 2020. | Background photo by by mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

In a statement, Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said at this point all local residents should assume the virus is present in their community.  

“We continue to urge everyone to do all they can to protect our vulnerable family members and neighbors,” Blodgett said. “Act as if you may be infected; keep your distance from those outside your home; wear a mask when near others; wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick.”

According to Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease director with Intermountain Healthcare, as of yesterday, the number of locals and nonlocals hospitalized with COVID-19 at intermountain’s Dixie Regional Medical Center was 31. However, that was with the number of local hospitalizations standing at 24, making it certain that number is much higher now.

Stenehjem said the intensive care unit is starting to become overwhelmed.

“We’re 40% higher what we were in July at all our large facilities,” Stenehjem said in a conference call with reporters. “Our hospitals are under stress.”

The number of those hospitalized with the coronavirus is now exceeding the number of ICU beds available at Dixie Regional. And those beds are not just for COVID-19 patients but for all of the other urgent conditions that would need to be handled by the ICU unit even when there is not a pandemic going on.

The hospital has 32 intensive care unit beds but has a contingency to create a temporary “surge” ICU that may be able to accommodate up to 89 ICU beds. But with most COVID-19 patients needing an average of 30 days in the ICU, Stenehjem cautioned that may not be enough.  

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease director with Intermountain Healthcare, seen via the Zoom app on Oct. 15, 2020. | Zoom screenshot, St. George News

“Many of these patients get admitted, and they’re in the hospital for a long time,” Stenehjem said. “They don’t just go in and leave.”

According to Utah Department of Health statistics, a large majority of the new hospitalizations are of those between 45 and 64 years of age.

A day after Southern Utah exceeded 5,000 people who have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began locally in March, that number has already risen to 5,113, with 934 people currently infected.

Taking into account the total population of Southern Utah according to the U.S. Census (251,764), that means more than three of every 1,000 people in Southern Utah are presently infected with COVID-19.

If there is a silver lining in Southern Utah, there have now been two straight days without a new death. However, a record number of hospitalizations will likely make that a brief reprieve.

Chart shows the number of deaths and the daily number of hospitalizations in Southern Utah from the coronavirus since May 1 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Also, while infections in Washington and Iron counties continue rising, infection rates have been dropping over the last six days in the rural counties of Kane and Garfield. Garfield is the lone Southern Utah county that was placed into the high transmission category earlier in the week. However, infections are on the rise in Beaver County.

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.

We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Oct. 15, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 5,113 (61.6 new infections per day in seven days, rising)

  • Washington County: 4,034 (51.1 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 853 (5.4 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 90 (0.3 per day, dropping)
  • Garfield County: 78 (2.7 per day, dropping) 
  • Beaver County: 58 (1.9 per day, rising) 

Deaths: 45 (0.7 per day, dropping)

  • Washington County: 38 
  • Iron County: 3 
  • Garfield County: 3 
  • Kane County: 1

Hospitalized: 30 (rising)

Recovered: 4,182

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,204 (rising)

Southern Utah counties in high transmission level (masks required, gatherings to 10 or less): Garfield (18.1% positive tests, 472.4 per 100,000 case rate)

Southern Utah counties in moderate transmission level (masks required, gatherings to 10 or less until Oct. 29): Washington (12.6% positive tests, 327.9 per 100,000 case rate), Iron (8.3% positive tests, 153.5 per 100,000 case rate)

Southern Utah counties in low transmission level (masks recommended, gatherings to 50 or less): Beaver (7.1% positive tests, 197.6 per 100,000 case rate), Kane (6.5% positive tests, 90.8 per 100,000 case rate)

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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