Cox going to Legislature for actions on COVID-19; Vickers says he’s willing to work with governor

ST. GEORGE — Saying that hospitals in Utah are in a “dire situation,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced Tuesday that he will be negotiating with the state Legislature on new measures to combat a surge in COVID-19.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, left with a translator, speaks during a COVID-19 news conference Aug. 31, 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press, St. George News

Meanwhile, the majority leader of the Utah Senate, Sen. Evan Vickers of Cedar City, told St. George News that he and the rest of the Legislature are willing to work with the governor. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Southern Utah remain at their second-highest levels since the start of the pandemic at 72 – a place they have been since Friday. In the meantime, infections are continuing to rise at Southern Utah schools.

During his first COVID-19 press conference in three weeks in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Cox said the goal in Utah has always been two-fold: to not overwhelm hospitals and keep kids in schools. With both under threat, Cox said he will be meeting in the coming days with caucus groups of state legislators with the goal of finding consensus on further measures. 

“It’s important every Utahn understand the dire situation our hospitals are in. For the first time in the pandemic, we had a moment where there were no ICU beds available in the state,” Cox said, adding that there was no hospital bed for a young relative suffering with a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, which is also surging in the state, and the child had to be treated with oxygen at home. 

“We need people to make the appropriate decisions in their lives, and we also need elected leaders to know what is going on in their communities. The laws we have in place require collaboration with the Legislature. They have the power to overturn anything we’ve done.”

Cox, a Republican, said “every idea is on the table,” although he did give the caveat that one idea is not likely to happen: “There is no way the Legislature is going to approve a mask mandate for the state, so we need to discuss other ideas.”

Among those ideas Cox said he supports is putting in a requirement for masks at a school if a certain threshold of infections are reached. 

Utah Sen. Evan Vickers at his store, Bulloch Drug store, in Cedar City March 24, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Vickers, a fellow Republican, will have a featured seat at that table of ideas as the majority leader of the Utah Senate. He said he doesn’t know what the consensus between the governor and Legislature will be, though he’s willing to at least have a discussion on whatever Cox brings to the table. 

“I really appreciate him and his staff working as a partnership,” Vickers told St. George News.

Cox said it’s a different dynamic than the one faced by the state when he signed bills back in March that banned the ability for the state to ban masks in schools and ceded many of his emergency powers to the state Legislature.

“The cases were going down, vaccines were going up and delta wasn’t a thing,” Cox said. “We were promised that if things changed, the Legislature would be willing to revisit that. Things have changed.”

Vickers’ leaning remains on leaving the ultimate responsibility of taking preventative measures to individual Utahns, though he acknowledges there are many making poor decisions at the moment. He said there have already been discussions among the Legislature of increasing education to the public of preventative measures. 

Vickers said he got a good anecdote on how the decision to wear a mask or get vaccinated doesn’t have to be political from Dr. Michael Goode, who is CEO of University of Utah Health. “Dr. Goode said, ‘I wish we could get to a point where it is like a coat. If you get cold, you put a coat on. If you get warm, you take it off,’” Vickers said. “I don’t know if there’s a silver bullet. If people would be responsible and take good care of themselves and, if appropriate, wear masks. … There’s so many things we can do on an individual basis; not sure mandating anything really helps.”

As another example, Vickers points to employees at his Bulloch Drug store in Cedar City. 

He said last week, five employees – including four in the pharmacy – came down with COVID-19.

“We decided for a while we need to wear masks. It’s just an example of personal choice,” Vickers said. “Some of our key employees sought to do that, and that’s what I’d like to see. I wish people would listen to science.”

That said, there also remain many within the medical community who have indicated to St. George News that they would like to see more action made by leaders to protect the community, especially when they say there are people who refuse to protect themselves or their families. 

Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Michelle Hofmann speaks during a COVID-19 news conference Aug. 31, 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press, St. George News

“Our freedom to move about the community and not get vaccinated has come at the expense of everyone at the frontlines of the health community,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health.

Also speaking at the governor’s press conference and alluding to his system of hospitals being full – including St. George Regional Hospital – Dr. Marc Harrison, Intermountain Healthcare CEO, noted the toll that 18 months have had on his doctors and nurses.

“We’ve lost some very valuable clinicians. Some people just can’t take it anymore. They’re particularly disheartened by the amount of unnecessary death and destruction,” Harrison said, noting that most elective surgeries at Intermountain hospitals are now on hold because of overcrowding. “Delaying elective care may not seem like a big deal, but say you’ve had back pain severe for months and are eager to get the surgery. You have to wait.”

But Cox said he believes the answer is somewhere between two extremes, saying that as far as masks are concerned, they’re not the only answer but they’re also not “evil” like others are portraying them.

“Between the anti maskers and the extreme maskers, we all need to get over ourselves,” Cox said.

State taking reins of controlling infections at schools

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said Tuesday that the state will be taking a closer look at COVID-19 infections in schools and is developing a green-to-red color-coding system to determine the extent of infections at school.

Under the state law that made mask mandates for school prohibited without local approval in March, schools cannot close based on number of infections, but all students and staff would need to “test-to-stay” and test negative after there are 30 or more infections in a Southern Utah school.

Henderson said the state health department will be keeping an eye on each school’s numbers and either coding each school green if there is no danger or yellow if infections are getting close to the threshold. If they get past 30 active infections – or 2% in the larger Salt Lake City schools that have more than 1,500 students – they will be coded test-to-stay red, and all students and staff will need to test negative to stay in school.

And Henderson said there will be no tolerance for parents who refuse to have their kids tested. 

“While we believe in parent choice and parents are responsible for their children, we also believe choices have consequences,” Henderson said. “If a parent chooses not to have their child tested, that parent is choosing remote learning.”

On Friday, the Utah Department of Health began releasing the number of active COVID-19 infections between students and staff at each individual school in the state, as opposed to listing just total numbers per district.

In the Washington County School District, Hurricane Intermediate and Pine View High each lead with seven active infections among students, while Sunset Elementary, with five, has the most staff members infected. There are 25 other schools in the school district with one to five infections each. 

There are seven schools in the Iron County School District with one to five active infections each. 

Cox said there is one example that may prove that masks are effective in schools, as Grand County is the one school district in the state that is requiring masks through local approval.

As of Tuesday, only Grand County High, one of four schools total in Grand County, is reporting one to four students and staff infected with COVID-19.

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.
  • Those who can receive a booster dose: Those who received Pfizer or Moderna previously and are immunocompromised.
  • 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.

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: 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: 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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