‘Worse than you think’: Southern Utah sees record 15 deaths in 5 days from COVID-19

ST. GEORGE — Since the Labor Day weekend, 15 people have died in Southern Utah of COVID-19 – the most of any five-day period during the pandemic. The Utah Department of Health said that includes a 15- to 24-year-old in Iron County, though a spokesperson with the local Southwest Utah Public Health Department said it hasn’t fully verified that death yet. 

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, ventilator tubes are attached to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, Calif. | Photo by Jae C. Hong/Associated Press, St. George News

In an interview with St. George News while attending the Tuesday groundbreaking of the new Cedar Breaks Visitors Center, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said his message to Southern Utahns is that the COVID-19 situation is more dire than they may think, but that he can’t do anything else to fix it. He puts that responsibility on Southern Utahns.

“It’s worse than you think it is right now, and it’s especially worse if you’re unvaccinated,” Cox said. “We’re overwhelming our hospitals, which is going to impact everyone. If you have a car accident, if you need your appendix removed, if you need an emergency room, it’s going to be tough. My message really is, please, please, please get vaccinated.”

Since returning to Salt Lake City from his Southern Utah visit, Cox has been meeting with several caucuses of state legislators looking into possible additional measures to quell down a pandemic that – as far as hospitalizations and deaths – has reached some of its worst levels in Southern Utah. 

However, Cox said not to expect state government to come to the rescue. 

“I can’t make people …  if you’re not willing to get vaccines, you’re probably not going to wear a mask. We all have a part to play in getting rid of this and keeping each other safe. We’re so close,” Cox said, referring to the vaccine. “It really is incumbent on everyone to do more and keep yourself safe; keep your neighbors safe. We just desperately need you to help.”

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the ceremonial groundbreaking for Cedar Breaks National Monument’s new visitor center, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah, Sept. 7, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

For many late Thursday, especially those who work for an employer with 100 or more workers, that request to get vaccinated became less of an ask and more of a requirement.

President Joe Biden announced that the Labor Department will require all businesses with 100 or more employees to either have all of their workers vaccinated or being tested for COVID-19 once a week. Businesses not complying face fines in the thousands of dollars. 

In Washington County, according to St. George Area Economic Development, at least 53 companies employ more than 100 people. The list includes Megaplex Theaters, Maverik Country Stores, Skywest Airlines, Walmart and the Washington County School District. 

According to Cedar City’s website, Genpak is the largest Iron County employer that isn’t a governmental or education organization. 

If someone wants to avoid the vaccination requirement and opt for the testing swab up the nostril, that’s been harder to come by of late.

“It’s a little more difficult to find immediate testing,” David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said. 

Many testing sites locally still have two- to three-day wait times to get an appointment, and then another 48 hours to get a result. The main drive-up test site in St. George for TestUtah is now accepting day-of appointments again, though a person still needs to go through their appointment site and request a walk-up appointment.

Staff member services a person being 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

It is still much easier to get a vaccination appointment. And according to the Utah Department of Health, 1,548 Southern Utahns received a vaccine dose Wednesday – nearly twice the amount that received one the day before.

Earlier this week, a milestone of sorts was reached, as the 100,000 person was fully vaccinated in Southern Utah. But at 40% of local residents fully vaccinated, that still isn’t a majority of people. 

Heaton said despite the high mark of doses Wednesday, vaccination demand has leveled off from a bump in the middle of August. And there are many who are overdue to receive their second vaccine shot of Moderna or Pfizer to become fully vaccinated. 

“Looks like almost 5,000 residents are almost two months overdue for their second shot so we would encourage them to fit that in soon for added protection.”

Even rural hospitals nearing capacity

The number of locals currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in the local hospitals has been steady, but it’s a high steady. As of Thursday, the Utah Department of Health says there are 71 Southern Utahns hospitalized with COVID-19, which remains the second-highest of the pandemic. 

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

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of Tuesday, St. George Regional Hospital’s intensive care unit was 93% full with 85% COVID-19 patients and Cedar City Hospital’s ICU was 72% full with 68% COVID-19 patients. 

And with all the hospitals in the state now trying to find any available bed for all ailments, even the smaller rural hospitals that aren’t handling COVID-19 patients like Kane County Hospital (66% full) and Beaver Valley Hospital (71% full) are nearing capacity.  

And the local medical staffs that have been already taxed emotionally and physically have never seen as many people die of COVID-19 as they did in the last week. 

Unlike the previous record period, from Dec. 9-13 when 14 locals died of COVID-19, many of these recent deaths were under 64 years old. 

“Over the past month, the trends in deaths are mostly males, hospitalized and mostly split between the 45-64 and the 65-84 age ranges,” Heaton said.

The 15-24-year-old female in Iron County reported dead by the State Department of Health is still being verified locally, Heaton said. 

Transmission rate high throughout Southern Utah

All of Southern Utah is now at a high level of transmission. With an increased rate of transmission, Garfield and Beaver counties moved into high on Thursday in the state’s COVID-19 Transmission Index, joining the three other local counties. 

Chart shows the percentage chance of being exposed to COVID-19 in a retail establishment with 50 people in certain cities as of Sept. 9, 2021, according to the Georgia Tech biological sciences department. | Background photos by Pixabay; Graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear masks in indoor spaces in areas of high transmission where physical distancing isn’t possible.

The CDC says masks absorb the water droplets the virus rides on, which keep the virus from transmitting from person to person. They are made more effective by the number of people who wear them.

As of Thursday, at least seven out of every 100 people in Washington and Iron counties is infected with COVID-19. According to 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, a person right now takes a 50-50 chance of being exposed to the virus in a local retail establishment without wearing a mask. 

There’s a 50% chance that someone without a face covering will be exposed to the virus at a supermarket or restaurant in Washington County with at least 50 people. That percentage goes up to 54% in Iron County. 

Cedar City high schools seeing outbreaks

Both of Cedar City’s high schools are moving dangerously close to moving into the state’s yellow alert, with red causing an automatic “test-to-stay” requirement where students and staff would need a negative COVID-19 test to return to school. 

Canyon View High School, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 18, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

As of Thursday, according to the Utah Department of Health, Canyon View High School has 10 active cases among students and staff, while Cedar High has nine. 

There also appears to be a discrepancy with the state health department numbers. For example, the Grand County School District announced at the start of the week that it was suspending classes for a week at Moab’s Grand County High because of 18 infections among students and staff. However, the Utah Department of Health said there are 1-4 active infections at Grand County High.  

And there may be similar discrepancies with Southwest Utah schools. 

A spokesperson for the Washington County School District has said that they are relying on the Utah Department of Health for their official numbers of students and staff infected with COVID-19. However, St. George News has learned that the individual roll sheets of certain schools – where a “C” is marked for a student absent because of COVID-19 – exceed the official total of COVID-19 infections for that school listed by the state. 

St. George News has also learned that at several local schools, staff and administration members – from the principal to teachers to secretaries in the front office – have had extended leaves because of COVID-19 infections.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Thursday,  according to Utah Department of Health)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 35,312 (7-day average of 131 per day, up 13.9% in last week)

Active cases: 2,245 (rising)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 636.42 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising
  • Iron County (High): 718.47, rising
  • Kane County (High): 621.35, rising
  • Garfield County (High): 356.37 rising
  • Beaver County (High): 402.38 rising

Hospitalized: 71 (steady)

Deaths: 321 (15 since Sept. 3)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Sept. 3): 168
  • Saturday (Sept. 4): 169
  • Sunday (Sept. 5): 99
  • Monday (Sept. 6): 76
  • Tuesday (Sept. 7): 75
  • Wednesday (Sept. 8): 145
  • Thursday (Sept. 9): 185

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,431 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 100,692 (40% fully vaccinated, +0.6%)

  • St. George: 43.7% fully vaccinated (+0.55%) 
  • Cedar City: 34.66% (+0.51%)
  • Washington City: 39.94% (+0.49%)
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 47.14% (+0.47%)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 33.67% (+0.55%)
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 39.04%   (+0.38%)
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 38.31% (+0.4%)

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: 44 to 116 (rising since Sept. 3)
    • Iron County School District: 36 to 72 (rising)
    • Kane County School District: 2-8 (steady)
    • Garfield County School District: 0 (steady)
    • Beaver County School District: 0 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 6-24 (rising)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 1-4 (rising)

Schools in yellow (In danger of moving to test-to-stay): None
Schools in red (Students/staff must test negative to attend): None
Top 5 schools: Canyon View High (Iron) 10 active infections, Cedar High (Iron) 9, Hurricane Intermediate (Washington) 5, Cedar Middle (Iron) 5, Pine View High (Washington) 5

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.

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