While state recommends masks in schools, Southern Utah health department disagrees

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Department of Health has “strongly recommended” that students in all K-12 schools in Utah wear masks when their fall semesters begin in the coming weeks. However, the local health department in Southern Utah said it does not see such a need.  

A Vista Charter School student poses for a back to school pic in her mask, Santa Clara, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Alison Schulz, St. George News

The state’s department of health issued the recommendation late Monday, and that recommendation was reiterated by Gov. Spencer Cox Tuesday. However, the department will not be able to mandate this because of a law passed by the state Legislature in May. 

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the local department that covers the five local counties does not agree with that recommendation.

“We don’t currently recommend masks in schools although students have the option to do so,” Heaton said. 

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations that in high transmission areas, people should wear face coverings in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also said all schools should have masks required in indoor areas. 

Washington and Iron counties are high transmission areas. 

A week ago, Heaton said the local department backed the state’s then position that vaccinated people and students did not need to wear masks. But while the state’s health department has adjusted its position to match that of the CDC, Southwest Utah’s department is not following suit.  

The school boards in Washington and Iron counties have already said they will not require masks in the upcoming school year, though they will not keep students and staff from wearing them. 

The CDC cites new studies that show that even while the risk to vaccinated people to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19 is next to nothing, vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to unvaccinated people (though the CDC also said vaccinated people have less chance to carry the virus).

In this July 2021 photo, medical staff at Intermountain Medical Center attend to a COVID-19 patient by dinning protective gear. Murray, Utah | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said the delta-variant virus students and staff will face when they go back to school in August is not the same one they left behind in May. 

“We have to realize this is a different virus than we were dealing with last fall. It’s transmissible to the level of chicken pox now according to the CDC,” Stenehjem said. “If we have children unvaccinated, you’re going to see this virus transmitted at school, and then you’ll see these kids bring the virus home. That’s just a fact.” 

Cox said he sympathizes with those who are vaccinated who say they are being asked to protect those 12 and older who decided not to protect themselves.

“You’re being asked to take one for the team again to protect those who are unvaccinated,” Cox said. “I’ve got to be honest. I’m really done with it and not excited to protect someone who doesn’t seem to care.”

The governor reiterated Tuesday that there will be no measures from his administration to mandate masks or vaccines to stem the surge. 

“All we can do is make recommendations,” Cox said during a news conference at St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek. “The responsibility is in your hands.”

The governor did encourage businesses to require masks and also said they have the right to require employees and patrons to be vaccinated.

Over the weekend, Walmart announced all of their employees would need to wear masks and recommended that their customers do the same. Kroger, the parent of Smith’s Food and Drug, announced it was recommending – but not requiring – masks for both its employees and patrons.

Cox also passed along some responsibility to local health departments and county commissions, noting that while the new law doesn’t allow the state or local school boards to impose a mask mandate at schools, it does allow local health departments and/or county commissions to do so for 30 days.

Heaton said as far as the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is concerned, that is not going to happen – or any restrictions as COVID-19 is concerned. 

“It is unlikely that our health department would issue any local COVID-19 mandates.”

Hospital running out of treatment medication

As the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is continuing to surge locally, St. George Regional Hospital is not only continuing to operate at or above capacity, but according to officials has now all but run out of a medication to treat severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

In this July 2021 photo, medical staff at Intermountain Medical Center prepare to attend to a COVID-19 patient by dinning protective gear. Murray, Utah | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare

Interleukin-6, or IL-6, has been used in COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms to help reduce the time of severe infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Todd Vento, medical director of infectious diseases for Intermountain Healthcare, said the IL-6 supply is not just a problem at St. George Regional but at all of Intermountain hospitals and is a nationwide issue.   

“We have run out,” Vento said. “This shows we haven’t got enough folks vaccinated against severe illness, so we’re running out of medicines to treat severe illness.”

Along with the ICU at St. George Regional being at or above capacity, as of the end of last week, 52% of the ICU was COVID-19 patients, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health officials said that is alarming as even during the worst of the pandemic, the percentage of the ICU filled with COVID patients was in the 40% range.

As of Tuesday, there were 58 local residents hospitalized for COVID-19 split between St. George Regional and a small amount at Cedar City Hospital.

COVID-19 deaths have also been increasing locally in the last week, with four local deaths since Friday. All were less than 64 years old, with one in the 25-44 range. 

An outpouring of flowers, notes, Diet Mountain Dews and Monster drinks cover a St. George Police vehicle set up at police headquarters as a memorial for Officer Adam Ashworth, who died of COVID-19. St. George, Utah. July 25, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

During his press conference, Cox mentioned the July 22 COVID-19 death of St. George Police Officer Adam Ashworth. The 39-year-old father’s funeral was held at Dixie State’s Burns Arena on Wednesday.  

Cox noted especially Ashworth’s wife, Bobbi Anne, who expressed regret for thinking that she and her husband didn’t need to be vaccinated as they had been healthy and never really been sick. 

“We appreciate her courage,” the governor said of Bobbi Anne Ashworth. “These stories are tragic and we hope that in sharing them we can encourage more people to get vaccinated.”

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 12 and over. Those 12-18 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.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department and most pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments.
  • Must wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • To receive a free ride to and from a vaccine appointment through Lyft, call 211.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S. 400 East, St George

For hours and more information: Click here 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Kane County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

Garfield County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

Beaver County:

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

For hours and more information: Click here 

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.

For hours and more information:: Click here

Revere Health:

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

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: 275 S River Rd. in St. George.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register


Where: 2610 Pioneer Rd. in St. George, 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use vaccinefinder.org to find a location near you

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of August 3, 2021 according to Utah Department of Health)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 31,625 (7-day average of 76.71 per day, up 27.9% in last week)

Active cases: 1,645 (rising)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 291.74 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising
  • Iron County (High): 364.70, rising
  • Kane County (Low): 126.81, steady
  • Garfield County (Low): 138.58 dropping
  • Beaver County (Low): 208.64, steady

Hospitalized: 58 (rising)

Deaths: 293 (4 since Friday)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (7-30): 104 
  • Saturday (7-31): 80
  • Sunday (8-1): 65
  • Monday (8-2): 39
  • Tuesday (8-3): 63

Current Utah seven-day average: 877 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 92,661 (36.8% fully vaccinated, +0.3%)

  • St. George: 40.18% fully vaccinated (+0.36%) 
  • Cedar City: 31.6% (+0.23%)
  • Washington City: 36.71% (+0.34%)
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 44.09% (+0.36%)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 30.56% (+0.21%)
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 36.42%   (+0.31%)
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 35.75% (+0.19%)

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.

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!