‘I hope we never mandate the vaccine’: Local health board fears too much government intervention

PANGUITCH — The head of the local health district as well as members of the health board overseeing Southern Utah have reiterated misgivings about too much overreach on COVID-19, saying the spread of the coronavirus remains in a new phase where it is one of many diseases people deal with and needs to be dealt with on a personal level. 

Members attend the meeting of the Southwest Utah Public Health Board at the Garfield County Courthouse in Panguitch, Utah. Aug.18, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

At a meeting of the Southwest Utah Public Health Board on Wednesday at the Garfield County Courthouse, Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, continued to express the view he recently made before the Washington County Commission that having mandates will do more to deter preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19.  

Blodgett said that will especially apply to any mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine, as he said it would just spur more division along political and ideological lines. 

“I hope we never mandate the vaccine. People will get exemptions and not come back,” Blodgett said. “We’ve had a 95% childhood vaccination rate and that’s at risk here.”

Blodgett declined to speak with St. George News after the meeting. 

Under Utah Code 26-28-101, passed by the state Legislature last May, a governmental entity in the state “may not require, directly or indirectly, that an individual receive an emergency COVID-19 vaccine.”

Southwest Utah Board of Health member Scott Symond, who is one of the representatives of Beaver County on the board, said the use of mandates can backfire.

“I do know that the more you tell people what to do or not to do the less they like it,” Symond, a member of the Milford City Council, told St. George News. “I think hopefully people will be responsible for their own actions and take care of those problems.”

Over the last two weeks, schools in all of Southern Utah’s counties have reopened under a state law passed in May that outlawed the mandating of mask requirements in schools unless it is approved by a local government or local health board.  

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has previously not only recommended against mandating masks in schools, they had said that they “don’t currently recommend masks in schools although students have the option to do so.” This differs from recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease and Control and the Utah Department of Health, which recommend masks for all student and staff in schools. 

David Heaton, spokesperson for the department, sought to clarify the statement, which he said was intended to apply only to requiring masks. 

Signs welcoming students for a new school year adorn the front lawn of Desert Canyons Elementary School, St. George, Utah, Aug. 12, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

“We do not currently recommend mask mandates in schools or as a general order, although businesses and organizations have the right to require them on their property, but continue to support voluntary mask-wearing in places when social distancing is not possible,” Heaton said, adding people should stay home if sick with COVID-19 symptoms and get tested and also encouraged hand washing.

New infections reached the triple-digits over the last three days in Southern Utah as both St. George Regional Center and Cedar City Hospital continue to see high admissions of COVID-19 patients. 

St. George Regional Hospital medical geneticist Dr. Ellen Arch, who specializes in working with children, told St. George News that besides COVID-19, misinformation is also spreading in Southern Utah. And with that, people operating may be putting division caused by false information ahead of the safety of children.

“I wish we, as a community, could put our political differences aside and work together for the health and safety of our children,” Arch said.

Because of the 14-day cycle between initial infection and when it is reported, the impact of schools reopening in Washington County on the spread of COVID-19 is not expected until next week. The resulting hospitalizations from new infections usually come a week after that and deaths shortly after.

The Utah Department of Health is already reporting a number of COVID-19 infections among students and staff in Washington County schools this week. St. George News has learned that several teachers throughout the Washington County district have been informed of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and attended class. 

However, unlike last year where the teacher and fellow students were asked to quarantine, the teachers and the students around them are continuing with class normally. Along with the teachers, parents are being sent letters home to inform them that a student in their child’s class has tested positive.  

Kane County Commissioner Andrew Gant, Dr. Clayton Perry and Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist attend the meeting of Southwest Utah Public Health Board during their meeting at the Garfield County Courthouse. In Panguitch, Utah. Aug.18, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Blodgett and other health experts have said previously that as children below 12 are less likely to be sick from COVID-19 that the risk is low among those in the primary school age group. However, the CDC and other health experts have noted even if primary school students are asymptomatically infected, they can easily spread within the home – especially among unvaccinated adults.   

Arch said the delta variant – which she said is “more contagious and more virulent” – is a whole new ball game as far as the effect it has on the very young. 

“We are currently admitting children of all ages, including the very young, with COVID pneumonia.  We are treating children with long-hauler syndrome in our clinics,” Arch said. “There are both significant psychological effects of pediatric hospital admission for respiratory distress, and significant financial effects for families. Neither of these should be underestimated.”

Blodgett said in June he wasn’t concerned about the COVID-19 variants, saying mutations are continuous. Since then, the delta variant has become the predominant form of the disease and the CDC says it is twice as transmissible as the original virus and is also causing more severe illness in those who are unvaccinated as well as people 18 years old and younger. 

Blodgett did tell the board that while those who are vaccinated don’t have as much to fear, those who are unvaccinated are getting sicker.

“What’s happened is we’ve lessened the impact on those who have the vaccine but those who are unvaccinated have it longer in the hospital,” Blodgett said.

As of Thursday, according to the Utah Department of Health, 56.8% of Southern Utahns are unvaccinated without a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Hurricane/LaVerkin (63.6% unvaccinated) and Cedar City (62%)  areas have the highest number of unvaccinated residents, while Ivins/Santa Clara is the only area where a majority of residents – 50.3% – have had at least one dose of the vaccine. 

The Ivins/Santa Clara area (325.73 per 100,000) is seeing the lowest rate of infections, while Cedar City (496.4), Washington City (493.2) and St. George (467.24) are seeing the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the last 14 days.

Vaccine boosters encouraged

On Wednesday, the White House announced a plan to provide a third booster shot for those who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines as of September. The White House said the booster shot, to start in September for those eight months or more removed from their initial vaccine, is designed to bolster their immunity.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine stored in a refrigerator at Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah, in late-December 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

Earlier in the week, the CDC and Federal Drug Administration recommended a booster shot for those who are immunocompromised. They have yet to recommend the same for others and the September plan hinges on their approval. 

Either way, Heaton said the local health district is ready and is already providing booster shots. 

“We have begun accepting walk-ins for eligible booster shots at our office clinics based on personal attestation (no documentation required) and will do the same when general eligibility opens up next month, although we have plans to expand to larger dedicated vaccine clinic operations if needed,” Heaton said.  

Hospital update

Cedar City Hospital has now exceeded St. George Regional Hospital as far as the percentage of the hospital’s patients infected with COVID-19. However, there are a fewer number of beds in the Cedar City facility. 

Cedar City Hospital on March 28, 2021. Cedar City, Utah | Photo by Jeff Richards, Cedar City News/St. George News

As of the end of last week – the last numbers available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20% of the patients (eight of 23) in Cedar City Hospital were being treated for COVID-19. The hospital itself was at 53% capacity with its ICU 72% full.

Further south, St. George Regional remains near capacity at 78% full, with the ICU at 88% capacity with nearly half of the patients there remaining infected with COVID-19.

Arch said there is little reason to think that will change soon.

“It is filling up our ICUs and hospital beds with younger and younger people,” Arch said. “There is a very real concern that hospitals may have to turn people away.”

Local health district adds COVID-19 consultant

Gary Edwards, who retired in April as the director of the Salt Lake County Board of Health, has joined the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on a part-time basis as a consultant on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Edwards, who has retired to Parowan and is the new Cross Country coach at Parowan High, was replaced in Salt Lake County by former state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Aug. 19, according to Utah Department of Health)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 32,928 (7-day average of 92 per day, up 26.3% in last week)

Active cases: 1,543 (falling)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 446.06 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising
  • Iron County (High): 472.29, falling
  • Kane County (Low): 177.53, rising
  • Garfield County (Low): 178.18 falling
  • Beaver County (High): 402.38, rising

Hospitalized: 40 (steady)

Deaths: 298 (1  since Aug. 12)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Aug. 13): 60
  • Saturday (Aug. 14): 146
  • Sunday (Aug. 15): 84
  • Monday (Aug. 16): 37
  • Tuesday (Aug. 17): 100
  • Wednesday (Aug. 18): 107
  • Thursday (Aug. 19): 110

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,010 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 95,575 (37.9% fully vaccinated, +0.6%)

  • St. George: 41.43% fully vaccinated (+0.67%) 
  • Cedar City: 32.75% (+0.55%)
  • Washington City: 37.84% (+0.59%)
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 45.35% (+0.66%)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 31.75% (+0.59%)
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 37.47%   (+0.55%)
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 36.52% (+0.37%)

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

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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