‘Virus doesn’t exist much’ in Washington County: Governor optimistic as area moves to low in COVID-19 Index

ST. GEORGE — Washington County has reached a milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic a little more than a year from the day the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Southern Utah: Its most populous county has been moved to the lowest level of alert as far as the coronavirus is concerned.

Washington County Legacy Park entrance in Hurricane, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Along with Kane County, the rate of new infections and the percentage of positive tests has allowed for Washington County to move to the “low” level of the COVID-19 Transmission Index. That means that along with Garfield County, which moved into low two weeks ago, there are no longer any mandatory state requirements in Washington and Kane County as far as physical distancing and taking precautions against COVID-19. 

However, taking measures such as physical distancing more than 6 feet and wearing masks when that is not possible is still recommended by state health officials and the Centers of Disease Control until more people have been vaccinated. 

“The truth is in places like Washington County, the virus doesn’t exist much,” Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday in response to a question by St. George News during the monthly taping on PBS Utah’s Governor’s Monthly News Conference. “This is a good sign that normality is coming back.”

The governor and other health officials attribute the reductions in Washington County to two factors: The active, outdoors lifestyle and the high elderly population here, as now 85% of those 65 and over in the state have been fully vaccinated according to the Utah Department of Health. 

Map shows the current level of each county in Utah according to the COVID-19 Transmission Index provided by the Utah Department of Health as of April 15, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“In Washington County, the cases have gone down because people are outside and vaccinations are happening among seniors. The elderly population is disproportionate in Washington County,” Cox said. “We have a lot of snowbirds there.”

The amount of infections per 100,000 people in Washington County has now fallen below 100 – to 97.43. Meanwhile the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive are now 2.66%, below the 3% threshold that epidemiologists consider to be at a pandemic level. 

Meanwhile, Iron County is continuing to surge ahead in replacing their more populated neighbors to the south and, with Beaver County, remains in the moderate category while the rest of Southern Utah has moved to low. 

In the last 14 days, there have been 187 new infections in Iron County, ahead of the 173 in Washington County. The amount of infections per 100,000 people in Iron (341 infections per 100,000) and Beaver (342.77) countries are the third- and second-worst in the state, behind only Moab-based Grand County (471.60).  

There have been a little over half of the people in Iron County vaccinated compared to Washington County, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. In Washington County, 29,166 people have been vaccinated compared to 15,264 in Iron County.

Gyms, workout centers will see biggest immediate impact

Equipment inside the Summit Athletic Club River Road location in St. George, Utah. Unspecified date. | Photo courtesy Summit Athletic Club, St. George News

The most significant immediate change in Washington and Kane counties will be for gyms and workout centers, as they were some of the last businesses under mandatory state orders for physical distancing and capacity under moderate. 

While still recommended, gyms now have no state restrictions as far as distancing between equipment or patrons. 

For Joe Levine, founder and CEO of Summit Athletic Club, it has been a long year. 

“When it comes down to everything being outside of your control the only thing we can truly control is our thoughts and keeping them positive.  Throughout this journey I’ve actually sat down and tried to list the positives because they are there, even if sometimes they are harder to find,” Levine told St. George News. “From a business perspective it was scary at the beginning. Summit has amazing employees and I was worried about them and their families. Temporarily closing our doors last year was one of the hardest moves I had to make. On the positive side, we had amazing support from our members and partners in our community and I truly believe going through the last year we will be better for it.”

While new infections are now down near or below pandemic levels, Levine notes that something else has gone up during the pandemic: Waistlines.

“The stress of what the last year has put people through has played a big role in their health,” Levine said, citing an American Psychological Association report that 42% of Americans have reported gaining an average of 29 pounds in the last year. “The good news is now that we are getting information that the (COVID-19) numbers are going down and we take another step closer to normal, these individuals can get their health back.”

Governor: Finish out the school year in masks, don’t wear them in the fall

Also Thursday, the governor reiterated that K-12 schools in the state need to finish out the last weeks of their school year with masks on, even while the state mask mandate ended last week.

In a file photo, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference on March 18, 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Spenser Heaps/The Deseret News/Associated Press, St. George News

However, he said campuses should expect to see the smiles of their student and staff more this fall.

“We’re not going to come back with masks in the fall,” Cox said, noting that most schools in the state have a little more than eight weeks left in their school years. “We’re so close. Let’s finish this out. We were able to keep schools open because of masks and the kids are so much better than their parents in this regard. It’s inspiring to see.”

Johnson & Johnson: ‘More likely to be eaten by a shark’

Responding to the news earlier this week that the CDC has put a pause on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the governor Thursday lamented that he disagreed with the move as being overly cautious. 

“You’re far more likely to be eaten by a shark or stricken by lightning,” Cox said, adding he was fearful of the negative connotations made to those who have not been vaccinated “As human beings, we are bad at analyzing risk. The numbers on clotting are miniscule. We need to help Utahns understand the risks of the virus is much more than any risks from vaccine. We have had no deaths from vaccines and more than 2,000 from COVID.”

The move by the CDC, then followed by the Utah Department of Health, came after six people out of the 6.8 million who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S. developed some kind of blood clot. 

A resident receives a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 second-dose vaccination clinic on April 6, 2021. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In Utah, none of the more than 68,000 in the state who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported getting a blood clot. 

The same kind of blood clots have been reported in 0.000095789% (182 out of 190 million) of those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine overseas. Both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines use the same type of process for their vaccine – using inert forms of the COVID-19 virus.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which have been more prominent in Southern Utah and the rest of the nation, use mRNA proteins to give cells the blueprint to create antibodies against the coronavirus.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 16 and over. Those 16-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use vaccinefinder.org 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.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time.
  • Must have a personal ID and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency may be required, though 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/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.

Reservations: Click to register

Revere Health:

Where: Revere Health Campus,  2825 E. Mall Drive, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

Rocky Vista University:

Where: Rocky Vista University – Southern Utah Campus,  255 E. Center St. in Ivins.

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

Lin’s Marketpace:

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: 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 vaccinefinder.org 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, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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