‘That was difficult to see’: Utah Lt. Gov. gets view of St. George hospital’s COVID-19 situation

ST. GEORGE — After a tour through the COVID-19 wards of St. George Regional Hospital she said was “very difficult to see,” Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson said there was little that she and Gov. Spencer Cox could do but made an appeal to the kindness of Southern Utahns. 

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson addresses media after a tour of the hospital’s COVID-19 wards, St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I think what the governor and I specifically can do has already been as effective as it’s going to be,” Henderson said, though she clarified that she and the governor can continue to make sure people have access to vaccines and testing. “We’ve had mandates before that not everybody followed. Mandates are just words. We need people to act.”

During her tour, Henderson, who herself was hospitalized for COVID-19 last year, was taken directly into the intensive care unit of the hospital that has been in a contingency mode now for more than a month for the second time during the pandemic. She was taken directly to COVID-19 patients – something she said she had not done before on tours of other hospitals.

There, she saw firsthand an ICU packed beyond capacity – 44% beyond full to be exact as of Friday, according to the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Patrick Carroll. And 95% of the patients are unvaccinated. 

“I was able to kind of peek in the door before, but today I actually was able to walk past patients’ rooms and see what it looks like to be a patient of COVID-19 in an ICU,” Henderson said. “And it’s very unpleasant, and that was difficult to see.”

Reporters were not allowed to join the lieutenant governor during this part of the tour, nor were any photographers allowed to take images. 

Instead, Henderson described what she saw on the tour as she was joined by local state legislators Rep. Lowry Snow, Rep. Rep. Walt Brooks and Sen. Don Ipson, as well as Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks with St. George Regional Hospital Administrator Mitch Cloward and Medical Director Dr. Patrick Carroll following a tour of the hospital’s COVID-19 wards, St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

As all moved to talk to reporters, all looked shaken and solemn. But Henderson said one nurse reminded her that there is one appeal that may be universal to both those who are taking preventative measures against COVID-19 and those who are not: Kindness.

“I asked one of the nurses, if you could ask for one thing you could wish to get, what would it be? And she didn’t have to think very long before she said, ‘Just being nice to people. No matter what, just think no matter what you believe, no matter who you are, be nice,’” Henderson said. 

“I believe in the goodness of the people of Utah. I believe in their sincerity. And I believe that when push comes to shove, they’ll do the right thing for themselves and for their communities,” Henderson added. “And it’s time for them to step up.”

Former St. George Mayor Jon Pike, now a part of Gov. Spencer Cox’s cabinet as the Utah Insurance Commissioner, also joined the tour and echoed the lieutenant governor’s reaction to what she heard from a nurse.

“Let’s not try to shame people into getting vaccinated or because they were vaccinated, you know, or masks or whatever it may be. Let’s just be kind and respectful,” Pike said. “I think we’re going to get a lot more real good results from that.”

Carroll said the surge of COVID-19 patients at the hospital has now been larger than it was last winter, when most felt the pandemic was at the worst it was going to get. At this point, the hospital has been consistently at or beyond capacity and, as of Friday, 25% of patients were there for COVID-19.

The South facade of St. George Regional Hospital on Sept. 3, 2021, St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I can’t remember a time ever where we’ve had 25% of our hospital capacity from one single disease process,” Carroll said. 

Henderson said she was struck by the young age of many of the patients she saw – Carroll said a third of the COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives in the ICU are younger than 45, and many are low-risk, healthy individuals with young children.

As to whether there are any actions that she and the governor can take beyond relying on the kindness of Utahns, Henderson deferred back to state legislators and local leaders. 

“Entering school with very little to no mitigating efforts in place, I’m worried, but I’m one person. The governor is one person and we don’t have the authority to do all of the things that a lot of people want us to do,” Henderson said. “There are a lot of really good people working throughout the state who are in these positions of leadership who I know want to do the right thing. And we’ll continue to support them.”

Number of fully vaccinated rising in Southern Utah

Henderson said the one solution remains for people to get vaccinated. And there is some evidence that Southern Utahns are starting to heed the plea to vaccinate against COVID-19.

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, St. George, Utah, April 6, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Vaccinations locally are substantially up this week in Southern Utah, going from 97,211 to 99,414 fully vaccinated – a 2.3% increase that is the highest in more than a month.  

And Carroll said a good reason to have the vaccine is that you likely won’t go to the hospital because of COVID-19 and you won’t die. 

Breakthrough cases locally — especially those that result in hospitalization and death — are still rare. Carroll said of the 160 people who have died  of COVID-19 at St. George Regional Hospital since December, three were fully vaccinated. 

“Your friends, your family, your neighbors die from COVID in our hospital,” Carroll said. “A third of the patients that are unvaccinated are young and they don’t have comorbid conditions.”

Among the younger population who are unvaccinated, the largest demographic is teens. Southern Utah has the third-lowest vaccination rate among teens ages 12 to 17 in the state, with 17% of teens fully vaccinated and 74% of teens without any vaccine shots at all.  

Testing becoming harder to come by

A line of cars await appointments to be tested for COVID-19 at the TestUtah testing site at Tech Ridge, St. George, Utah, Sept. 2, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

With the continuing rise in the infection rate in Southern Utah, it’s suddenly getting harder to get tested for COVID-19 in Southern Utah.

Whereas a month or two ago, someone could walk up and get tested for COVID-19 locally, it’s back to appointment only in most places. And even then, those appointments are filling up. 

On Thursday at the prime drive-thru, appointment-only TestUtah site on Tech Ridge, there was a steady stream of cars. All appointments to get tested at the site – the only one that provides rapid tests in St. George – were filled until at least next Tuesday. The same goes even for drug stores like Walgreens. 

Officials at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department did not respond to inquiries from St. George News about the testing situation. 

Infections rising – especially in Washington County

According to the Utah Department of Health, COVID-19 infections are up 46% in Southern Utah in the last week. The number of people infected locally has gone from around 1,500 to 2,123 people.

There was some good news in one Southern Utah county. Beaver County was lowered from high to moderate after the COVID-19 infection rate lowered there. This means that per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, face coverings are no longer needed for vaccinated individuals.  

Washington, Iron and Kane counties remain high. The rise in infections was especially high in Washington County, which for the first time in two months had a higher infection rate than their Iron County neighbors to the north. Even then, neither county has the highest infection rate in Southern Utah. Kane County now has a higher rate than Washington or Iron counties. 

Garfield County is still the only area of Southern Utah in the low category, though it did see a rise in its infection rate this week and just missed joining Beaver in the moderate range. 

The CDC recommends that masks be worn where physical distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status, in areas of high transmission. 

The number of people hospitalized has remained at 71 to 72 since last Friday – the second-highest number of patients of the entire pandemic. 

Test-to-stay goes into effect for schools

The color-coding levels being used by the Utah Department of Health to determine if a school is at or approaching a test-to-stay level announced on Sept. 3, 2021 | Image courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News

The state formally introduced a new system Friday to determine when a school is getting close to, or must move to a “test-to-stay” policy, which is in place of any policy that would close a school entirely. 

Under the red test-to-stay level, once a school in Southern Utah has 30 or more students and staff actively infected with the virus, all students and staff must test negative for COVID-19 in order to return to school. 

Schools with at least 1% of students and staff infected  are moved to the yellow level.

While there are at least two schools in northern Utah in yellow, no schools in Southern Utah are yellow at this point. 

However, Washington County schools Hurricane Intermediate, Pine View Middle and Tonaquint Intermediate and Iron County’s Canyon View High are each one to three active cases away from moving into yellow. 

While the state department of health is providing some numbers for local schools, it is no longer providing exact totals for each school district. And most of the individual schools being provided is in an inexact one to four range of infections.

Steve Dunham, spokesperson for the Washington County School District, said the Southern Utah Public Health Department would be able to provide exact numbers for school districts in Southern Utah. A spokesperson for the Southern Utah Public Health Department told St. George News they would look into the individual numbers of each district on Wednesday, but as of Friday has still not provided such figures.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Sept. 3,  according to Utah Department of Health)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 34,564 (7-day average of 128.29 per day, up 45.9% in last week)

Active cases: 2,123 (rising)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 585.17 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising
  • Iron County (High): 545.23, rising
  • Kane County (High): 595.99, rising
  • Garfield County (Low): 277.17 rising
  • Beaver County (Moderate): 253.35, falling

Hospitalized: 72 (rising)

Deaths: 307 (four since Aug. 26)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Saturday (Aug. 28): 162
  • Sunday (Aug. 29): 88
  • Monday (Aug. 30): 62
  • Tuesday (Aug. 31): 121
  • Wednesday (Sept. 1): 140
  • Thursday (Sept. 2): 157
  • Friday (Sept. 3): 168

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,365 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 99,414 (39.4% fully vaccinated, +2.3%)

  • St. George: 43.15% fully vaccinated (+0.97%) 
  • Cedar City: 34.15% (+0.83%)
  • Washington City: 39.45% (+0.95%)
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 46.67% (+0.56%)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 33.12% (+0.83%)
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 38.66%   (+0.77%)
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 37.91% (+0.83%)

Southern Utah schools active COVID-19 infections (as of Sept. 3, according to Utah Department of Health)

NOTE: Utah Department of Health currently providing only ranges of the number of infections in each district, rather than exact figures

    • Washington County School District: 41 to 113 (rising since Aug. 26)
    • Iron County School District: 13 to 33 (rising)
    • Kane County School District: 2-8 (rising)
    • Garfield County School District: 0 (steady)
    • Beaver County School District: 0 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 5-20 (rising)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 0 (steady)

Schools in yellow (In danger of moving to test-to-stay): None
Schools in red (Students/staff must test negative to attend): None

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.
  • 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 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.

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!