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

Southern Utah

ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) — While most cases reported in 5-county Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) district have been travel-related, the most recent cases in Washington and Iron counties appear to be community spread, officials announced Thursday.

As of Thursday afternoon, two cases in Washington County and one in Iron County appear to be community spread, meaning person-to-person, including some who may not know when or where they contracted the virus, according to officials.

SWUPHD has now confirmed 8 cases in Southern Utah, including 6 in Washington County and 2 in Iron County. 1 case is considered recovered or was asymptomatic.

RELATED: Washington County Search and Rescue urge residents to social distance while recreating

Public health officials say testing for COVID-19 is becoming more available in Southern Utah. While up to this point medical workers, the elderly, and those testing negative for the flu were being prioritized, health officials now ask that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, mainly shortness of breath, cough, and a fever, reach out to their healthcare provider for testing.

“Panic is not the solution in any situation, but being prepared is always in order,” said Dr. David Blodgett, the director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

“Our health care system has set up alternate testing sites, so it’s helpful to learn where those are so you go to those sites instead of going to the ER, where you can potentially infect other people,” Dr. Blodgett said. “The best thing to do is to call ahead and let them know you’re coming.”

RELATED: Utah’s 78th COVID-19 case has warning for peers

St. George Mayor Jon Pike told ABC4 News that community spread has been imminent in Washington County for several weeks and the news indicates that social distancing measures are more critically important now than ever.

“Now it’s just even more important that we contain this and minimize the spread,” Pike said. “If restrictions were to go further, for example a shelter-in-place restriction at the county or the state level, it’s simply to me more of what we’re already doing.”

“The restrictions and recommendations provided by local and state health departments and the Governor’s office are more significant than ever, including social distancing inside or outside and groups of 10 or fewer. They need to be followed,” said Pike.

With city officials in some areas of the country have brought in law enforcement to help enforce the CDC guidelines, Mayor Pike said doesn’t believe they’re there yet as a community, believing restaurants and the public have generally followed social distancing guidelines well.

Although further restrictions wouldn’t include a total lockdown, Pike said it might mean playgrounds or non-essential services could close down.

“We are closing our Thunder Junction All Abilities Park, we’re only allowing ticketed passengers into the terminal at St. George Regional Airport, and we have restrictions at our golf courses, and we’re monitoring our state parks very closely,” he added.

Mayor Pike said the St. George area is considered a sensitive region, with about 19 percent or more than 34,000 of Washington County’s population considered elderly, a big portion of the community is considered high-risk, not including the thousands estimated to also be immunocompromised.

For a full list of closures and city recommendations, head to the City of St. George COVID-19 response page.

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