‘Don’t be a jerk’: Many COVID-19 restrictions lift in Iron County, but Cox warns it’s not a green light

ST. GEORGE — Iron County joined Washington County on Thursday as areas of Southern Utah that have had COVID-19 restrictions lifted by the state, and Cedar City moved to the moderate level of the state’s COVID-19 Transmission Index. 

But while setting the goal Thursday to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all Utahns by the end of the month, the governor of Utah warned Iron County residents and those in other counties seeing their restrictions lifted that it is not time to wave the checkered flag and declare the pandemic over. 

“This doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. If we’re not careful, the virus can surge again,” Cox said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City. “People still need to wear masks.”

According to state department of health, Iron County just squeaked into the moderate range by reducing it’s rate of infected per 100,000 population to 278.5 below the threshold of 304 to be moderate. The test positivity rate increased in Iron County this week, from 4.07% to 6.07%.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health District, said the district expected the reduction of alert level in Iron County with recent trends, but added that while people are getting a little more lee-way for how they gather, they should still take up a personal responsibility to protect themselves and others. 

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 11, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

“It does allow for some differences in gathering but we should still be doing all we can to stop the pandemic,” Heaton said.

One bad week could put Iron and Washington counties back into the high range and see restrictions come back. 

“We’re almost there. We just need to take the last mile until we can prevent preventable deaths again,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. “We still have 85% of the population susceptible to COVID-19.”

Dunn said while the state continues to be far from the worst stages of the surge late last year, the state department of health was seeing a plateauing of infection rates this week. And while the news has continued to be promising on the vaccination front, the virus itself is making a bit of a comeback in Southern Utah after infection rates were on a downward slide in the last month.

New infections doubled in Southern Utah each day this week between Tuesday and Thursday. The increases are especially large in Beaver County. 

Graphic showing the restrictions under the revised Utah COVID-19 Transmission Index as of March.11, 2021. | Background photo by Pixabay, graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

This week, Beaver County usurped neighboring Kane County for the highest test positivity rate in the state (17.86%) while Kane kept its spot with the worst percentage of local population infected with the virus in the state.

While he has said small-population rural counties like Beaver and Kane may be affected more by outbreaks than the larger populated counties in the area, Heaton still acknowledges having the two worst counties in the COVID-19 Transmission Index puts a damper on the positive news in Washington and Iron counties. 

“We encourage people in (Beaver and Kane counties) to stay consistent with the rest of our district in taking preventative measures,” Heaton said. “Though slight increases there will do more than they will in the other counties.”

Governor urges Utahns to be respectful to each other

Both Cox and Dunn said Thursday they are not necessarily racing against a deadline set by the virus to get all Utahns vaccinated, but by a deadline set by the state legislature. 

The Emergency Response Amendments, designated SB 195, and the “COVID-19 Endgame Bill,” designated HB 294, both passed by the legislature – curtails the governor and health department’s power to continue an emergency order past 30 days and also sets a deadline of April 10 for the state’s mask mandate to end. 

Cox made clear Thursday that he especially wasn’t a fan of the mask mandate deadline, but indicated he has no choice to sign it with a veto-proof majority voting for it. 

Randall Martin was one of a small group of protesters outside the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on Nov. 2 to protest local mask mandates. | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

“I obviously don’t love the bill, but the legislature disagreed and is entitled to” Cox said, while making clear that it is not only people’s sense of personal responsibility that should keep people wearing masks. “The entire mask mandate doesn’t go away after April 14. It will still be there for schools and crowds over 50 people, and businesses can still require masks.”

Stores like Walmart and the parent of Smiths Markets have continued to require masks in states that have already lifted mask mandates and will likely do the same in Southern Utah. 

To that end, Cox pleaded with Utahns to be more understanding at businesses that either continue preventative requirements after April 10 or places like restaurants that add more tables after requirements have been lifted in places like Washington and Iron counties. Social media is full of incidents of people, dubbed “Karens,” yelling about mask requirements in businesses throughout the pandemic.

“Don’t make a fool of yourself by yelling at a clerk …. You don’t need to be a jerk.  If you don’t feel comfortable, go somewhere else,” Cox said. “Conversely, if you don’t feel comfortable with tables being closer at a restaurant, order take-out. If you don’t care about people, don’t go where people are.” 

One year later

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the day Cox said “it became real:” when two members of the home-state Utah Jazz tested positive for what was then a new coronavirus. What followed in the scheme of entertainment was a suspension of the NBA season for basketball fans, but on a larger scale the following days started a chain of events that saw businesses and restaurants shut down throughout Southern Utah and the state, as well as stay safe, stay home recommendations. 

File photo shows basketball fans react after it is announced that an NBA basketball game between Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz in Oklahoma City has been postponed, Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | Photo by Kyle Phillips/Associated Press, St. George News

A year later, there are 243 people, including 185 people in Washington County alone, who lost their lives to COVID-19: 2,015 in the state and more than 530,000 people nationwide.

Cox said he was remembering his first meetings as the then lieutenant governor with Dunn a year ago at this time and remembers her telling him about the worst-case scenario of 250,000 dead in Utah and a best-case scenario of 2,000 – a milestone the state just passed.

“Even though that was the best-case scenario, it’s still tragic,” Cox said, adding it is important to realize that each number is a real mother, father, son or daughter. 

Politico reports that when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases its annual mortality report in the coming days, 2020 will go down with the highest death rate in U.S. history, with COVID-19 being the leading cause of death above anything else.

Vaccines ramping up 

After a slow start on both the state and federal level, vaccine supply and distribution has been growing on a weekly basis for the last month. 

A resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine inside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Feb. 11, 2021. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Whereas the talk throughout the pandemic has been of exponential increases in the number of infected, the talk now is of exponential hikes in the number of vaccinated and vaccines available.  

Such is the case in Southern Utah, where, by Thursday, there have already been more than 15,000 people receiving vaccinations this week locally according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. 

“This week has been amazing,” said Heaton, who credits health district staff and volunteers for making those vaccinations go quicker and smoother even with more appointments. “We have done more vaccinations this week and we are still moving people quicker.”  

Heaton said the district is now adding new vaccine appointments daily, which residents can be alerted to by texting SWUHEALTH to 888777.

On the state level, the Utah Department of Health is expecting to hit its one-millionth vaccination by this weekend, while nationally the goal set on Jan. 20 to have 100 million vaccinated by April 30 is expected to be reached by next week with nearly 50 days to spare. 

With supplies continuing to ramp up, Cox set the goal this week of expanding eligibility for the vaccine to every Utahn by the end of the month, though he didn’t expand eligibility this week beyond those ages 50 and over and those with high-risk conditions. 

Cox also said that April 1 is a goal and not necessarily set in stone.

“It’s all based on the ability to get vaccine from the federal government, so there’s those caveats.”

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.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of March 11, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 27,270 (47.1 new infections per day in seven days, rising since March 6)

  • Note: County numbers as of Wednesday.
  • Washington County: 20,368 (25.6 per day, falling)
  • Iron County: 5,100 (9.1 per day, falling)
  • Kane County: 594 (2.7 per day, falling)
  • Garfield County: 454 (2.4 per day, falling)
  • Beaver County: 695 (6.7 per day, rising)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of county numbers):

  • St. George: 41 (rising)
  • Washington City: 5 (falling)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 15 (rising)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 4 (rising)
  • Cedar City: 31 (rising)

Deaths: 243 (1 per day, falling)

  • Washington County: 190
  • Iron County: 33 
  • Garfield County: 9 
  • Kane County: 5
  • Beaver County: 6

Hospitalized: 14 (falling)

Active cases: 1,141 (falling)

Current Utah seven-day average: 524 (falling)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 94,065 (+19,535)

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 48,938 (+6,676)

Number of fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 27,094 (+7,429)

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine:Everyone ages 50 and over ; K-12 teachers and staff; those that work in nonhospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices); and first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs; Those with the following health conditions – Transplant recipients, having had certain cancers, immunocompromised state including HIV, all forms of kidney disease, all forms of diabetes, obese with a body mass index greater than 30, hepatitis, chronic heart disease, but not high blood pressure, lung disease besides asthma, downs syndrome or cerebral palsy, those who have had strokes or dementia, sickle-cell anemia.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID (if necessary) and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency is required, though as of Feb. 25 a person does not have to reside in the county they are receiving the vaccine. Part-time residents can get vaccinated with proof of residency.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • Those without email addresses or unable to make reservations online can get help at a specialized hotline at 435-986-2549.
  • To get alerts for when new vaccine appointments are added with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, text SWUHEALTH to 888777.

Washington County:

Where: St. George Active Life Center, 245 N. 200 West, St George

Reservations: Click to register 

Iron County:

Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Wedgewood Lane, 2015 N Wedgewood Lane, Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register 

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab.

Reservations: Click to register 

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch.

Reservations: Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver.

Reservations: Click to register

St. George Regional Hospital:

Where: St. George Regional Hospital,  1380 E Medical Center Dr., St. George, 84790.

Reservations: Click to register

FourPoints Health:

Where: Various locations.

Reservations: Click to register


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

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: 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

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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