As Southern Utah hits another high for COVID-19 infections, is Thanksgiving safe?

ST. GEORGE — If there needed to be any more evidence that this Thanksgiving was going to be different than any other, the Utah Department of Health gave ample proof when it released its latest coronavirus numbers Friday afternoon.

Photo illustration. | Photo by cglade, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

With Thanksgiving a week away and the pandemic carrying on, families are having to grapple with how safe it truly is to gather for the holiday. This is especially true in Utah, where there is a large emphasis on family.

On Thursday, exactly a week before the day of family and feasts, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert released guidelines for how people can reduce their risk and still enjoy the annual holiday of gratitude. 

“This is not a normal Thanksgiving, but it’s what we need to do,” Herbert said. “We want to have a happy holiday season, but also a safe holiday season.”

And Herbert said he is leaving it to people to make the right call, rather than the government doing it for them. On Monday, he is expected to lift the order restricting social gatherings while keeping in place the statewide mask mandate. 

Herbert describes the guidelines as being based on reducing the number of people who gather and the time they are together. 

“The more people who gather together, and the longer together, it increases risk,” Herbert said. 

The main guideline is people should consider keeping this year’s turkey dinner to those in their household, rather than friends and family from outside the house. 

A list of tips for having a safe Thanksgiving during the pandemic provided by the Utah Department of Health. | Graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | | Click to enlarge

If that’s not possible, guidelines include wearing masks and social distancing, having one person make and serve the food and consider braving a little chill and having the feast as the pilgrims did – outdoors. 

It’s still early, but according to the National Weather Service, the forecast for Thanksgiving is sunny throughout Southern Utah with highs in the 50s in St. George and in the 40s in Cedar City. 

A complete list of the guidelines is in the graphic accompanying this article. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has described the decision going into Thanksgiving as a “risk assessment and risk benefit discussion within the family.” He said families have to weigh if it is worth putting more people into a dangerous situation for the sake of Thanksgiving, especially for older and at-risk family members outside the household who are more likely to contract the virus and die from it. 

With now three promising vaccines seemingly ready for distribution in 2021, Fauci said it isn’t a bad idea to just look to next’s year’s turkey.  

It is also a time to be creative, whether it is utilizing Zoom and other messaging apps, or like the annual Red Rock School Community Thanksgiving Dinner in St. George, which is still taking place for its 46th year but with a drive-thru and spaced-out tables outside. 

New single-day highs in Southern Utah

The Utah Department of Health said Southern Utah had its worst day of new COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in March.

Southern Utah also passed 10,000 people who have had the coronavirus since the first positive test in Southern Utah on March 21

Graphic showing what the top 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah was as of Oct. 19, 2020 at left, and through Nov. 20 2020 at right. | Background photo by by
mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The 359 new infections included 158 in St. George, 43 in Cedar City, 57 in Washington City, 52 in Hurricane/LaVerkin and 21 in Ivins City/Santa Clara. 

A month ago, a list of the single-day highs for new COVID-19 infections in Southern Utah was in the 60s to 90s. Now, they’re in the 100s to 300s.

There has been nearly a quadrupling of the case rates in Iron County, which just a few weeks ago temporarily had a mask mandate rescinded after the infection rate was seemingly under control. 

There were another two deaths locally, both in Washington County, which has seen six die of the coronavirus in the last two days. 

23% increase in deaths (from 64 to 79) in the last week. There has also been a sharp increase in the number who have died in the 45-64 age range, with many of the people in that demographic dying at home of COVID-19 without hospitalization. 

At Dixie Regional Medical Center, the number of locals hospitalized has remained in the mid 40s throughout the week. And statewide, there is basically no room left in any intensive care unit for patients whether they have COVID-19 or not. As of Thursday evening, there were just 41 ICU beds remaining throughout Utah. 

Officials, including Herbert, are quick to add that what may be lost in what looks like just numbers of dead, hospitalized and infected is each number represents a real man, woman or child. A mother, a father. A crossing guard, a police officer, firefighter or a nurse. 

“There’s a segment of our community that doesn’t believe this is real,” Dr. Mark Ott, the medical director of Intermountain Medical Center recently said. “You may not be in the ICUs or sick, but these are real people having funerals.”

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 Nov. 20, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 10,337 (247.1 new infections per day in seven days, rising since Nov. 19)

  • Washington County: 8,059 (162.4 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 1,475 (39.1 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 140 (4,1 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 221 (8.3 per day, rising)
  • Beaver County: 142 (6.9 per day, rising)

Deaths: 79 (2.1 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 66 (2 new since last report: hospitalized female 45-64, male over 85 at home.)
  • Iron County: 4 
  • Garfield County: 6
  • Kane County: 1
  • Beaver County: 2

Hospitalized: 44 (rising)

Active cases: 3,540 (rising)

Recovered: 6,380 

Current Utah seven-day average: 3,331 (rising)

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, 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!