Dixie Regional Medical Center medical director urges locals to ‘separate fear from respect for COVID-19’

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — The medical director at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George says he hopes the community will “step aside” from how politicized the COVID-19 pandemic has become and work together to reverse the alarming trends the region is experiencing.

“Right now, we’re trending in the wrong direction,” Dr. Patrick Carroll told reporters Wednesday. “Just like it’s our problem to own, it’s also ours to solve. Working together we can do that, but fighting against each other, we can’t.” 

Carroll said the problems healthcare providers are seeing with the pandemic are not specific to the Salt Lake City area but are affecting southwestern Utah as well, where he said a lack of mask-wearing and social distancing remains common. 

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department, covering a 5-county district of Washington, Iron, Garfield, Beaver, and Kane counties, is experiencing a sustained surge of COVID-19 cases on top of an increase in hospitalizations and ICU patients. 

Thursday saw 67 new cases reported for a total of 1,052 active cases, the vast majority in Washington County, which has been now moved from moderate to high on the transmission index levels:

  • 48 deaths (1 new; a male Garfield County resident over the age of 85).
  • 23 residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
  • 58,033 total people tested as of Oct. 19. 
  • 15.9% positive testing rate for the period of Oct. 15-19.

Following a rapid spike of COVID-19 patients requiring advanced care, doctors and nurses at Dixie Regional Medical Center moved their first patient into their surge ICU facilities Sunday afternoon.

Carroll said the hospital has 284 beds, including 32 ICU beds, but declined to provide specifics regarding the total number of surge beds created. He said the facility currently has more ICU patients than staff would’ve been able to care for had hospital officials not taken this step. 

“For several days, we were able to shuffle patients around and move patients out of the ICU to make room for other patients in the ICU,” Carroll said. “But towards the end of the week, we got to the point where that was no longer a solution and wouldn’t be adequate to care for everyone that needed care.” 

Carroll says the majority of their COVID-19 patients are not tourists coming from California, Nevada, or Arizona but are residents of the 5-county region. The surge in COVID-19 cases are overwhelmingly coming from households and casual social interactions where people frequently forego masks and stay in close contact with each other, Carroll said, while a much smaller number is coming from workplace interactions. 

“This is a local problem, and a majority of the COVID patients are from our backyard. What we’re seeing in the hospital are your friends, your family members, your neighbors,” Carroll said, referencing that the hospital is also a major medical referral center for northwestern Arizona and southeastern Nevada. “We have patients from neighboring cities, but the overwhelming majority are not those patients.” 

While he says he is pleased to see the survival rates of the disease increasing, Carroll said that locals need to “respect what the disease has done and can do in the community.” With that approach, he says he is confident that the community can come together to reverse the trends. 

“We need to separate fear from respect. We don’t need to fear COVID, but we need to respect it,” Carroll said. “When we separate fear from respect, we can do what we need to do to keep people safe.”

Although multiple contingency plans are in place, rooms can be converted, and supplies can be replenished, Carroll said staff are limited and becoming burned out working many extra shifts with no end in sight. 

On the same token, Carroll urged people to seek out a hospital whether their symptoms are representative of COVID-19, a heart attack, a stroke, or anything else. 

“We don’t want people foregoing care out of fear,” Carroll said. 

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