ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — After a lull in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Utah last week, the 5-county district is now seeing a jump in new coronavirus cases as it transitions to “moderate risk” or “code orange” directives starting Friday, May 1.

Officials with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) told ABC4 News their priority has shifted away from stopping the spread of the virus, adding that because of increased testing and residents venturing outdoors, they shouldn’t be surprised to see a jump in COVID-19 cases and even a few hospitalizations.

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In the past 8 days, coronavirus cases in Southwest Utah increased from 70 to 98 cases. Nearly 70% — or 68 cases — are considered recovered, according to officials. This new data also includes 4 hospitalizations, which health officials say the 5-county district had not seen in two weeks. Those hospitalized are under the age of 80, according to SWUPHD.

Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said 1% of cases in Utah are of people over the age of 85 years old, but this age group represents 23% of the state’s fatalities.

“We’ve accumulated the data and we’ve watched the trends,” Blodgett said. “We’re encouraged that we’ve had zero cases in people over the age of 80.”

SWUPHD said their goal is not to stop the spread of the virus but to protect the healthcare system and the most vulnerable residents — the elderly and those with compromised immune systems — as others support the economy. 

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“There is a lot of concern that we as county commissioners have had for our local businesses and families that have been impacted economically,” chairman of the Washington County Commission Victor Iverson said.

Public health officials in southwest utah said that increased testing is likely a factor of the increase in cases. The most recent data shows nearly 5700 tests performed, up from about 3700 people tested that was reported just 8 days ago, according to officials.

SWUPHD said the decision to transition protocols from high to medium risk starting May 1 is based on low hospitalization rates, low hospital resource usage, and abundant testing resources.