COVID-19 cases plateau in Southern Utah, but experts expect increase in cases as kids go back to school

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ST. GEORGE — After a month that saw increased COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and new infections, Southern Utah saw a plateauing in COVID-19 cases over the past week. However, medical experts say this week may be the calm before a storm of new infections as students and teachers head back to school.

“We’ve started to see our counts of COVID-19 tick up in children,” Dr. Per Gesteland, with Primary Children’s Hospital, said in a Zoom conference. “So we’re watching this very closely because we’re concerned that those trends are going to really pick up, and we’re going to start to see a lot more disease.”

Officials with the Southwest Utah Public Health department, who do not recommend the wearing of masks in local schools, and the Utah Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who do recommend wearing masks, all say they expect the delta variant of COVID-19 to spread rapidly among students and staff in reopening schools, who could spread the disease further among those unvaccinated and immunocompromised. This will especially be the case for families with children in primary schools, as those under 12 are still unable to get the vaccine. 

The Georgia Tech Risk Assessment Planning study, which utilizes local, state and national COVID-19 numbers to determine the chance of being exposed to someone carrying the virus that causes COVID-19, said there is a 19% chance a student returning to class in Washington County this week will be exposed to COVID-19 based on a classroom of 20 students. That chance increases in classrooms of more than 20 students.  

That chance of exposure increases to 24% in Iron County, where new infections are among the highest in the state, and 20% in Beaver County, which saw three COVID-19 deaths in the last week. All three counties are at a high transmission level in the latest COVID-19 Transmission Index by the Utah Department of Health.

Chart shows the percentage chance of being exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom with 25 people in certain cities as of May 6, 2021, according to the Georgia Tech biological sciences department. | Background photos by Pixabay; Graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The chance of classroom transmission is less than half in Kane and Garfield counties, which have remained at a low transmission level. 

The CDC recommends masks be worn by both unvaccinated and vaccinated people in high transmission areas. A Utah law passed in May dictates that only a local health district can mandate the wearing of masks in school. That is something the Southwest Utah Public Health Department says it will not do. The department’s director, Dr. David Blodgett, told the Washington County Commission on Aug. 3 that a mandate causes more resistance to putting on a mask and other health measures and it should be left to people to educate themselves and make their own health care choices. 

Latest from the hospital

While the proverbial “vacancy” sign has gone up at St. George Regional Hospital for the first time in weeks, the hospital is still dealing with a high patient count, especially in the intensive care unit.  

The hospital’s administrator, Mitch Cloward, told the Springdale Town Council on Wednesday night that as of that morning, 261 of the hospital’s 284 beds were occupied, with 44 of those patients having COVID-19. As of earlier in the week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 50% of the hospital’s ICU was filled with COVID-19 patients.

St. George Regional Hospital Administrator Mitch Cloward speaks in Hurricane, Utah, June 16, 2021 | File photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

And the age of the COVID-19 patients is continuing to skew younger. According to the Utah Department of Health, the average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have tripled since July 1 for those ages 1 to 14 and doubled for those 15 to 24. 

The death rate in those age groups is still low, but school-age children are reportedly seeing more severe illness with the delta variant of the coronavirus that is now prevalent.  

St. George News has learned that in the last week, teenagers younger than 18 years old have gone home still hooked up to an oxygen tank after spending time at St. George Regional Hospital for COVID-19.  

CDC, doctors say vaccine is fine for pregnant women, will not cause infertility

On Wednesday, the CDC released new guidance that affirmed the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. “COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future,” the guidance reads. 

A woman receives COVID-19 vaccination shot from a nurse at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department offices in Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 12, 2021 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Dr. Sean Esplin, the senior medical director for women’s health with Intermountain Healthcare, told St. George News there is no risk to the mother or child if she gets vaccinated. He said there is a benefit as the mother is going to pass on antibodies to their child, though he added that immunity might last a matter of months.

The vaccine’s side effects are similar to the fever and body aches a woman may already experience while pregnant. But Esplin said there is one side effect of not having the vaccine that could be costly to both mother and child. 

“Pregnant women are more likely to have a more severe form of the COVID disease,” Esplin said. “We have pregnant women here in the intensive care unit who’ve lost babies.”

Esplin also countered misinformation on social media that getting the vaccine can cause infertility in women and men. 

“There is absolutely no data to support that. It is pure speculation,” Esplin said, citing a study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine that the rate of infertility among those who have received the vaccine versus those who have not is the same. 

Esplin said the problem has been people reading speculation without data to back it up on social media and being confused about who to trust. But he said to get past the confusion, people should consult with their doctor and the consensus of national associations representing doctors.

“I’m looking at a list of 22 different national organizations, the CDC, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the list goes on and on,” Esplin said. “They have all now that we have looked at the evidence and the outcomes and all say, ‘We recommend that you receive the vaccine.’”

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Aug. 12, according to Utah Department of Health)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 32,281 (7-day average of72.43 per day, up 2% in last week)

Active cases: 1,874 (rising)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 376.22 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising
  • Iron County (High): 523.35, rising
  • Kane County (Low): 126.81, steady
  • Garfield County (Low): 256.37 rising
  • Beaver County (High): 372.58, rising

Hospitalized: 39 (falling)

Deaths: 297 (5  since Aug. 3)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Aug. 6): 89
  • Saturday (Aug. 7): 86
  • Sunday (Aug. 8): 66
  • Monday (Aug. 9): 39
  • Tuesday (Aug. 10): 43
  • Wednesday (Aug. 11): 74
  • Thursday (Aug. 12): 110

Current Utah seven-day average: 843 (falling)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 94,064 (37.3% fully vaccinated, +0.5%)

  • St. George: 40.76% fully vaccinated (+0.58%) 
  • Cedar City: 32.2% (+0.6%)
  • Washington City: 37.25% (+0.54%)
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 44.69% (+0.6%)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 31.16% (+0.6%)
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 36.92%   (+0.5%)
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 36.15% (+0.4%)

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 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 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, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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