WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As more and more visitors flock to the St. George area and temperatures continue to rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue crews say they’re concerned about potentially straining their resources and personal protective equipment as they notice a spike in calls with no end in sight.
Sgt. Darrell Cashin, the liaison for the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, said that in the past 17 days, his volunteers have responded to 10 rescues.
“I expect they will probably increase until it gets hot enough here that people can’t stand to go outside,” Cashin said.
Cashin tells ABC4 News that brings the total to 46 rescues in Washington County so far in 2020, up from about 37 calls around this time in 2019.
Since state parks in Southwest Utah re-opened to the public, rescuers say they have noticed an influx of visitors from California, Colorado, and Washington, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I know there’s a group of 25 divers that came up from California that are renting a house out in SunRiver,” Cashin said. “The word is they don’t plan on going back to California because of the restrictions down there, so they’re going to stay here as long as they can and recreate.”
To keep themselves safe from COVID-19, Washington County SAR teams said locals made them 120 reusable surgical masks, which they said will hopefully provide them with enough personal protective equipment to last a few months at the current rate.
Rescuers tell ABC4 News mostly locals have needed to be rescued, but likely others from the Salt Lake City area as well. The calls for help are mainly injuries, from broken ankles to severe falls and mountain bike crashes off cliffs, according to Cashin, who said he also anticipates several body recoveries at nearby lakes and reservoirs.
Sgt. Cashin said his volunteers have been coming out in droves to recent calls, but he said he fears that will change once they go back to work, adding that his worry is receiving multiple calls back-to-back.
“You know you always worry — is the next one going to come when I have nothing left?” Cashin said. “Or you get one that is very long and protracted. Your crews are two hours into it, you get another call, and you can’t use any of these assets at all. They’re already in.”
Rescuers ask that residents recreate responsibly: socially distance, bring a light jacket, water, and a flashlight, and always let someone know exactly where they plan to go.