ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) – As public health and medical officials throughout Southern Utah continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic with confirmed cases of community spread in both Washington and Iron Counties, administrators at Dixie Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in St. George said they are prepared due to emergency planning that was already in place.

Because of confidentiality and privacy laws, the hospital is unable to specify how many are in the hospital with the coronavirus, but DRMC medical director Dr. Patrick Carroll reiterated that the hospital has an “incredible team” that has “stepped up in a really major way.”

“Truthfully when I talk to my colleagues and medical staff at Dixie Regional Medical Center, this is a very different situation than what most of us have ever experienced,” Dr. Carroll said. “It’s been truly amazing to watch our medical staff, our nursing staff, and our respiratory staff. This is hard. What we’re doing is difficult.”

“To also have the backing of a much larger network and leadership with Intermountain Healthcare has been really incredible so we can work together and do things more successfully,” he added.

On Friday, Dixie Regional began a new policy that everyone entering the hospital, from doctors to administrators, are having their temperatures screened before they can center.

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Dr. Carroll said medical staff are being transferred to areas of the hospital in need. For example, some nurses who are normally in the operating room have been moved to new units, observing patients in different stages of recovery, he said.

“I’m convinced that those relationships will continue on after the pandemic is over, and it will improve our quality of care for all of our patients in the hospital,” added the medical director.

As a regional hospital, DRMC is also treating coronavirus patients from outside of Southern Utah, including Intermountain Life Flight transfers from hospitals in Page, Arizona and Mesquite, Nevada.

The hospital is licensed as a 284-bed facility, and each room can easily be converted into an ICU unit if needed. DRMC has up to 325 beds in the facility and would reach out to the state if and when they would need to expand.

“Our hope is that all of this planning will end up not being necessary and we won’t have to flex in or surge into these other bedspaces, but I suspect we will need to flex at some point,” Dr. Carroll said. “We’re ready to do that right now. We could open up those beds really at a moment’s notice.”

Hospital administrators said they could also expand several hundred more beds if necessary in the hospital as well as other locations, as they look into certain spaces throughout the building that could house potentially 2 beds in the same room.

RELATED: Public health, city officials react to community spread of COVID-19 in St. George area

Dr. Carroll said St. George is considered a high-risk population, with about 19% of Washington County residents considered and elderly and a high portion of the population with comorbid conditions, including heart-disease.

“We can’t get comfortable, and we have to really keep our foot on the gas pedal,” said Dr. Carroll.

He said the facility is prepared both in terms of ventilators for patients and proper masks for medical personnel.

DRMC has a 32 bed-ICU unit with a ventilator for each bed, as well as additional ventilators throughout the other floors of the hospital. At this point, the hospital may have more ventilators to spare for other Intermountain facilities like the harder-hit areas of Salt Lake City and Summit County.

He said the facility could easily expand to 5 to 10 times that amount of ventilators if needed.

“We’ve never come close to needing the number of ventilators that we have. We have additional ventilators in the operating room used for surgeries, and since elective surgeries are being postponed, we could use those ventilators as well,” Dr. Carroll said.

“We may see that Northern Utah will have a need for ventilators before we have a need for them. Collaborating with other hospitals throughout the State of Utah, patients can be transferred down to St. George if need be, and, if our area surges later, we could transfer patients up to Salt Lake City,” he added.

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Hospital administrators say the facility is also currently in a very good situation with masks. He says that they don’t have any shortage of masks at this time, although he added that personnel are being very judicious with their use to ensure hospital staff don’t go through more quickly than necessary.

The orthopedic floor of the hospital has been converted into an area to house potential and confirmed coronavirus patients. Hospital staff also have a BLU-MED tent set up next to the ER to separate those who come in with respiratory issues.

“The BLU-MED tent is something that will be used to triage patients in the emergency department if the volumes increase,” Dr. Carroll said. “There are currently no plans to set up additional tents, although we have plans for additional beds in the hospital and additional locations.”

2.5% of Washington County residents getting tested are receiving positive results. As testing analysis is being done in centralized labs in Northern Utah, Southern Utah residents are experiencing a longer turnaround time for test results; but, DRMC is anticipating a shorter turnaround time in the coming weeks.

“The turnaround time for patients in the hospital and our priority patients will receive test results in 24 to 48 hours, and for tests that are not in that top tier, it’s taken 72 hours and in some cases longer than that,” added Dr. Carroll.

While the St. George area currently has a lower positive rate than the rest of the state, hospital leaders say social distancing remains critically important to not burden its healthcare system.

“There’s quite a bit of variation in how seriously people are taking social distancing. Some people are taking it very seriously, others not so much,” Dr. Carroll said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important that is while we try to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our own community.”

He said it’s likely public health departments will be testing asymptomatic residents as well, although he added that not knowing whether or not individuals have coronavirus may help some people practice better social distancing and hygiene.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s not an easy answer to figure out if we should be testing everybody,” Dr. Carroll discussed. “And if so, how frequently? Every 14 days? Every 7 days? Do we do it only once?”

Southwest Utah: 42 cases (2 new, 3 currently hospitalized, 1 death, 14 recovered) as of Monday afternoon:

Washington County: 26
Iron County: 13
Kane County: 2
Beaver County: 0
Garfield County: 1

According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, these cases include travel-related and community-spread infections. If you have traveled (international or domestic) recently, you should practice social distancing for 14 days. If you experience symptoms (including fever, cough, and shortness of breath) contact your healthcare provider to ask about testing for COVID-19.