‘If you’re symptomatic, assume you have COVID’: State makes new recommendations as hospital hits record

File photo of Gov. Spencer Cox speaking during the ribbon-cutting event for the Cedar City Business and Innovation Center, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 15, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — The state of Utah has issued a new recommendation concerning COVID-19 stating that if a person has any kind of symptoms related to COVID-19 to stay home for five days and then wear a mask for an additional five days upon returning to work, school or general society.

State epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 14, 2022 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

The recommendation comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations in Southern Utah have reached their highest level of the entire pandemic. An official at St. George Regional Hospital said they have never had as many people with COVID-19 as they do now. 

“If you’re symptomatic, assume you have COVID,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, adding that medical officials say the more contagious omicron variant now accounts for 95% of COVID infections. “There is so much going around right now. What is more important is keeping you away from people so that you don’t spread it.”

The new recommendations, among others, were issued during a morning press conference at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City by Gov. Spencer Cox and other state and legislative officials. Senate President J. Stuart Adams was also scheduled to speak representing the state Legislature but tested positive for COVID-19, and House Speaker Brad Wilson spoke in his place.

The recommendation stated there is no need to get tested to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis, with the main reason for this cited as being a dwindling supply of COVID-19 tests statewide and the need to reserve them for high-risk individuals. 

A worker provides a COVID-19 test kit at the Soft Cell free test drive-thru at Dixie State’s Atwood Innovation Plaza, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Because of the low testing supplies, it was also recommended to temporarily suspend the test-to-stay policy for schools put into place by the state Legislature last year that would prohibit a student or staff member to come to school without a negative COVID test once the school reached a certain threshold of students infected with the virus – in Southern Utah, this would be 30 or more students. This new recommendation of suspending test-to-stay allows for schools to switch to remote learning for a week if they wish or to do nothing at all beyond asking students and staff to stay home if they have symptoms.

However, despite the fact the CDC has previously stated many children with COVID may be asymptomatic, the governor did not address how to slow the spread of COVID-19 in lower-grade schools without test-to-stay where students without symptoms may spread the virus at home and beyond. 

Tom Hudachko, a spokesperson with the Utah Department of Health, told St. George News that test-to-stay is going away because with the rise of omicron, it hasn’t slowed COVID-19 in schools.

“In the current environment, test-to-stay is already ineffective at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Whether kids are asymptomatic or not, these events are simply not working to identify and stop outbreaks,” Hudachko said. “The best protection against COVID-19, for students and adults alike, is to get vaccinated, get boosted and wear a mask.”

During the press conference, Cox said his own daughter’s school went to test-to-stay after a multitude of students and staff were infected. His daughter ultimately tested negative, but Cox said her school was like a ghost town after she was permitted to return.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 14, 2022 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

“She said it was like the Thanos snap event,” Cox said, referring to the Marvel “Avengers” movies. “It was like half the class disappeared.”

While Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson advised that “our response to COVID needs to change as COVID has changed,” Cox reasserted that the main tool to slow the spread of COVID-19 is still vaccinations. He said the people with the most to worry about right now are the unvaccinated.

“The most at-risk people right now are those not vaccinated,” he said. “What works are vaccinations and booster shots. People who are vaccinated or boosted are not going to the hospital.”

According to the Utah Department of Health, as of Thursday, people who are unvaccinated for COVID-19 are 6.7 times more likely to be hospitalized if they get the virus than those who are vaccinated and 15.2 times more likely to die. 

At St. George Regional Hospital, the number of hospitalizations continues to rise.

Nurses and doctors attend to a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator at a Utah hospital in an undated photo | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

“We are at 90 COVID patients this morning. This is the most COVID patients we have ever cared for,” said Terri Draper, a spokesperson for the hospital.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department reported late Thursday that there are 85 local residents in the hospital for COVID-19, breaking the record of 75 set on Jan. 5, 2021

Cox also suggested that now may not be the best time to eat out, with the omicron variant being more airborne and able to stay in an environment for up to 25 minutes. 

“This idea that we’re in a restaurant, we take off (a mask) to get a drink and the virus knows not to infect us, that’s not real,” Cox said.

Nolen said for at least the next 45 days, residents should take even more precautions against COVID-19 than they have over the last few months of the pandemic. That includes postponing gatherings and looking at work alternatives. 

“We encourage people to look at their events,” Nolen said. “Can the event be delayed? Can people return to remote work?”

Updated 2:15 p.m., Jan. 14, 2022: Additional comments from Utah Department of Health, numbers updated.

Southern Utah coronavirus count as of Friday, according to Utah Department of Health

Positive COVID-19 tests: 52,214 (7-day average of 487.43 per day, up 64.5% in last week)

Active cases: 6,279 (rising since Jan. 13)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 1,537.48 per 100K rate in 14 days, rising since Jan. 6
  • Iron County (High): 1,707.33, rising
  • Kane County (High): 720.24, rising
  • Garfield County (High): 554.46, rising
  • Beaver County (High): 1,331.16, rising

Hospitalized: 85 (rising, data updated as of Jan. 13)

Deaths: 516 (1 since Jan. 13)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Saturday (Jan. 8): 447
  • Sunday (Jan. 9): 458
  • Monday (Jan. 10): 371
  • Tuesday (Jan. 11): 387
  • Wednesday (Jan. 12): 657
  • Thursday (Jan. 13): 534
  • Friday (Jan. 14): 554

Current Utah seven-day average: 9,827 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 119,706 (45.8% fully vaccinated, +0.1% since Jan. 13)

  • St. George: 49.3% fully vaccinated (+0.1%)  
  • Cedar City: 41.62% (+0.09%) 
  • Washington City: 44.85% (+0.06%) 
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 52.26% (+0.03%) 
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 39.12% (+0.03%)  
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 44.77% (+0.04%) 
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 44.85% (+0.04%)

Southern Utah schools with active COVID-19 infections as of Friday, according to Utah Department of Health

NOTE: Utah Department of Health currently provides only ranges of the number of infections in each district, rather than exact figures. Figures may be an overall undercount as not all infections among students are reported to the state.

    • Washington County School District: 200 to 275 (rising since Jan. 13)
    • Iron County School District: 57  to 72 (steady)
    • Kane County School District: 7 (steady)
    • Garfield County School District: 3-12 (rising)
    • Beaver County School District: 12-18 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 23-35 (steady)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 2-8 (steady)

Schools in yellow (15-29 infections): Pine View High (Washington), Cedar City High (Iron), Crimson Cliffs High (Washington), Snow Canyon High (Washington), Desert Hills High (Washington).
Schools in red (30 or more infections): None.
Top 5 schools: Pine View High (Washington) 22 active infections, Snow Canyon High (Washington) 17, Cedar City High (Iron) 15, Crimson Cliffs High (Washington) 15, Desert Hills High (Washington) 15.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 5 and over. Those 5-18 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 at least five months ago and are 12 or older. Those who received Johnson & Johnson at least two months ago and are 18 or older. Booster shots can be of any form of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department have returned to walk-in appointments. Some pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments. Check the links below before going.
  • 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: Call (435) 673-6131 to determine if the vaccine is available.


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 Marketplace:

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, 2022, all rights reserved.

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