Health officials raising eyebrows to low COVID-19 rates in So. Utah schools

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Schools in Southwest Utah are seeing low COVID-19 case counts overall, despite 45% of total people vaccinated and the majority of students not masking-up.

It’s been a quiet year so far for schools in Southern Utah in terms of COVID-19 outbreaks, with few cases but it’s raising questions for state health department leaders.

“We didn’t see nearly the amount of cases in schools we were anticipating; we know there’s a lot of spread happening, especially among those younger unvaccinated child ages right now,” says Brittany Brown, the COVID-19 Deputy Testing Director for the Utah Department of Health.

Local and state health officials say many factors could be playing into the low case count. Data from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department reports 527 children within the ages of 5-11 are vaccinated; 10,000 children between the ages of 12-18 are vaccinated and about 55% of eligible residents ages 5 and above have at least one dose.

“One could be is that there is some pre-existing immunity, that a lot of the kids were exposed or infected earlier in the pandemic and have some degree of immunity, we also know that a good section of teachers and staff were already vaccinated so that would prevent them from spreading it more than they would otherwise, there could also be unreported cases,” says David Heaton, of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

But state officials say this region has the third-lowest testing rate in the state, behind tri-county, near Vernal and San Juan County.

“Maybe doing more of the home testing, that’s not reported to public health and we might not know what’s going on or people might not be getting tested altogether,” says Brown.

The state only has three testing sites they sponsor across Washington and Iron Counties. The location in St. George, only tested an average of 283 people last week. The newest location in Hurricane open one day a week only saw 13 people.

“Our message again is to encourage our residents to continue to get vaccinated, to get their boosters when they are eligible,” says Heaton.

Officials say with the holidays approaching residents should get tested, to prevent spreading the virus that may be deadly to their family and friends.

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