ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health are warning residents of Southwest Utah that the region could see a surge in COVID-19 cases after a contagious first few weeks of May.

But officials with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) say the 5-county-district, encompassing Washington, Iron, Beaver, Garfield, and Kane counties, is well prepared in the event of a surge, reiterating that their goal is not to stop the spread of the virus, but to protect the most vulnerable populations.

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At the beginning of May, Southwest Utah reported a little more than 100 confirmed cases. By Thursday, the area has nearly tripled its total, reaching 271 confirmed cases, which included 11 new cases and four current hospitalizations.

“The increase in positive does not seem to be linked to the increase in testing,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press conference. “We’re actually seeing an increase in the percent positive there as well.”

Dunn is asking Southwest Utah to be “more diligent in terms of social distancing and following public health guidance.”

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SWUPHD spokesperson David Heaton tells ABC4 News that although the area saw its biggest ever ond-day spike with 19 new cases and its fourth related coronavirus death this week, they say that they’ve given healthcare systems enough time to prepare in the event of a surge.

“Going back in the phase back up to orange is always on the able if that were essential,” Heaton said. “Right now, we think things will be able to be managed as far as handling any moderate surge in cases.”

Heaton said that when it comes to the public health department’s ultimate goal of protecting the most vulnerable, from the elderly to those who are immunocompromised, he believes officials are still doing a great job, adding that only one resident over the age of 80 has contracted the virus in Southwest Utah.

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SWUPHD officials added that the majority of cases can be traced to a known positive contact, whether a family member or coworker and want to remind the public that three of the five counties under their jurisdiction — Kane, Beaver, and Garfield — currently have no active cases.

Health experts say that doesn’t mean, however, that anyone should be letting up on social distancing or mask-wearing because the virus can rapidly run its course throughout the communities.

“We’re encouraging people to realize that phase ‘yellow’ doesn’t mean phase ‘green.’ That just like ‘orange,’ social distancing is essential,” Heaton added.

Katie Karalis
Katie worked as a multimedia journalist in Reno, Nevada for KRNV News 4 and in Quincy, Illinois for WGEM-TV before making the move to Utah. Katie graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she anchored and reported for the Emmy-award-winning Northwestern News Network.