Northern Utah hospital filled to capacity as Southern Utah sets another 1-day high for COVID-19 cases

The sign leading to the emergency room at Dixie Regional Medical Center seen on Feb. 13, 2020 in St. George, Utah. | Photo by Chris Reed

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One of Utah’s largest hospitals has no beds left in its regular intensive-care unit as the governor declared the state’s weekslong rise in coronavirus cases “unsustainable.” Meanwhile, while Dixie Regional Medical Center has still not had to activate its surge ICU, but Southern Utah for the second time this week hit a one-day high for new infections with 92 additional people infected with COVID-19.

Undated photo of the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. | Photo courtesy of University of Utah Health, St. George News

That was led by St. George, which with 53 had the most new infections in the state for cities with less than 100,000 people on Saturday according to the Utah Department of Health.

The University of Utah Health had to set up extra ICU beds staffed by doctors and nurses working overtime to care for its critical patients this week as the unit hit 104% capacity, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Vinik.

“We’ve cut back where we can but it’s precarious,” he said. “We are very concerned about flu season, particularly if people don’t get vaccinated. We can’t take another hit.”

The number of Southern Utah residents hospitalized with the virus went down Saturday according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. However, in the past few days, Dixie Regional Medical Center, which also handles COVID-19 patients beyond Southern Utah, has had more overall coronavirus patients than the number of ICU beds in the facility.

Nevertheless, Dixie Regional spokesperson Terri Draper said the hospital still hasn’t activated its surge ICU that would expand available intensive care beds from 32 to 89.

“No, we have not expanded to a surge ICU. But health care resources statewide are strained at this point due to significantly rising COVID-19 cases and subsequent hospitalizations, which are adding to high-patient volumes in our ICUs,” Draper said. “It’s important to remember that we continue to care for many non-COVID patients who require high levels of ICU care as well.”

The main entrance to Dixie Regional Medical Center on in St. George, Utah on May 8, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Draper said the doctors, nurses and other caregivers at the hospital are in need of help from the community.

“Again, we call upon the community to stand with us, mask up, social distance appropriately, wash hands often, and stay home if sick,” Draper said. “Our caregivers and patients throughout the community need your support to reduce transmission of this virus.”

Health officials again reported near record-breaking levels of new coronavirus cases statewide Saturday, which they say means hospitalizations could continue to rise.

Utah health officials reported nearly 1,500 new cases on Friday and an additional 1,340 Saturday, a number that Gov. Gary Herbert called “sobering” during a weekslong rise in new cases. Herbert again encouraged people to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Doctors like Vinik are also worried about the impending holiday season, where cold temperatures combined with more people gathering indoors could mean the further spread of the pandemic. Hospitals statewide were at 73% capacity.

Herbert has not issued a statewide mask mandate, but earlier this week he unveiled a new plan that automatically requires face coverings in high-transmission counties and for the next two weeks has made masks mandatory in Washington, Iron and Garfield counties. Herbert warned Friday that more areas could face new restrictions if the case counts didn’t come under control.

“This is vital to ensure our healthcare system is not overwhelmed,” Herbert said in a statement.

Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press

St. George News Weekend Editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.

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. 17, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 5,252 (61.4 new infections per day in seven days, dropping)

  • Washington County: 4,145 (50.5 per day, dropping)
  • Iron County: 870 (6.6 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 93 (0.7 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 82 (1.9 per day, dropping) 
  • Beaver County: 62 (1.6 per day, dropping) 

Deaths: 45 (0.6 per day, dropping)

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

Hospitalized: 23 (dropping)

Recovered: 4,235

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,222 (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)


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