Hospital sees some COVID capacity relief but warns about New Year’s, return to school

The outside of St. George Regional Hospital seen as as a sustained rain falls on the St. George area, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2021 | File photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — For the first time in weeks, St. George Regional Hospital and other medical facilities in Utah are seeing their number of patients go below capacity. But doctors and medical officials are concerned a surge of the omicron strain of COVID-19 that has seen infection totals double locally and triple statewide in the last 48 hours could make the reprieve for hospitals brief, especially with New Year’s parties and kids returning to school next week.

Without a hospital stay or death, officials say even a mild or asymptomatic case will still mean lost time from work or school. That could be costly for local businesses already dealing with staffing issues. 

“If we look at hospitalizations, they’re coming down, albeit slowly. But this can’t be false hope. Hospitalization is a lagging marker,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare. “If we have thousands and thousands of people being infected, there are going to be people who need hospitalizations like those over 65 and the immunocompromised.”

Stenehjem said statewide, the intensive care units at Intermountain hospitals were collectively at 93% capacity as of Thursday. “That’s not to say that 93% capacity is good. Our target is 85%,” Stenehjem said. “But we hope this can give us a little breather.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of Tuesday, St. George Regional was at 92% capacity in its ICU and 85% overall in the hospital. That’s down from last week when the hospital was at 106% capacity overall and 125% in the ICU. 

Cars at the TestUtah free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Tech Ridge, St. George, Utah, Dec. 30, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Deaths where COVID-19 is the main cause were also down slightly locally in the last week, with 12 people in the five-county area being added to the 497 Southern Utahns who have died of COVID-19. That closes out the deadliest year of the pandemic in the area, with 72% (360) of local COVID-19 deaths coming in 2021.  

On Wednesday, for the first time this month, the Utah Department of Health reported no COVID-19 deaths in Southern Utah. But Stenehjem said omicron, which health experts say is as contagious as measles, has quickly taken over as the main COVID-19 strain travelling on water droplets from people’s mouths not stopped by a mask. 

“What is happening is omicron is pushing delta out,” Stenehjem said. “We’re at 70% omicron. Ten days ago, we were at 5-10%”

Local infections have jumped from about 80 per day to 189 in the last 48 hours, and statewide from about 1,000 to 3,500, according to the Utah Department of Health. Southern Utah infections are up 55.2% in the last week.

Equipment hooked up to a COVID-19 patient at Intermountain Hospital, Murray, Utah, October 2021 | Photo courtesy Intermountain Healthcare

Bringing some hope is that omicron has also proven to be more likely to cause milder infections of COVID-19. But Stenehjem cautions that even those vaccinated without a booster above 65 years of age and the immunocompromised will still be vulnerable to worse infections. He adds that thanks to vaccinations and unvaccinated who have recently had the disease, there is some immunity out there. 

“Keep in mind our population has significant immunity. There 60%-plus vaccinated (statewide) and people recently infected,” he said. “Many will get infected but baseline immunity will protect them from hospitalizations.”

As of Thursday, 45.3% of people in Southern Utah were fully vaccinated, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Worries about New Year’s and return to school

Stenehjem has one more piece of caution going into New Year’s festivities and students returning to school from winter break: Take precautions.

Stock photo. | Photo by
macniak/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The Centers for Disease Control has said New Year’s Eve events limited to vaccinated family members have much less risk, though it cautioned against bigger gatherings. 

Stenehjem goes a bit further, adding that with more people taking home COVID-19 tests now that aren’t counted in the infection numbers reported by the Utah Department of Health. 

“This is not a great time to be gathering for New Year’s Eve. I know multiple people who have COVID-19 with omicron and many aren’t counted because they took home tests,” Stenehjem said. “If gathering with people, I would strongly encourage testing everyone who goes before they do.”

If the free drive-up COVID-19 testing site at Tech Ridge in St. George is any indication, there are a lot of people needing COVID-19 tests right now. In the last two days, 50 to 100 cars at a time have been lined up at the TestUtah site. 

The Tech Ridge testing site, which includes the rapid antigen test with results in 15 to 30 minutes, will be open Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. People are asked to pre-register for the test at

A line of about 50 cars wrapped in a circle at the TestUtah free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Tech Ridge, St. George, Utah, Dec. 30, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

For those who need rapid COVID-19 tests in Cedar City, there is a free drive-thru test site run by TourHealth in the south parking lot of the Cedar Fun Center at 170 E. Fiddlers Canyon Rd. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

Stenehjem and other experts caution that the quick antigen tests that also include many at-home tests aren’t as accurate as the more thorough PCR test, which can take up to 48 hours for a result. But they can be a good way to screen partygoers for New Year’s Eve.

If a quick test is positive for COVID-19, there’s little likelihood that it is a false positive. But it is possible for a person to have a negative result and still be infected on the rapid test, and people with symptoms may want to get a second opinion.  

“At-home tests are not perfect. As a screening when people don’t have symptoms, it’s good enough,” Stenehjem said. “If you have symptoms, I would follow it up with a PCR test to be sure.”

Also a big fear of health officials is what will happen when school is back in session next week. While children are less likely to die of COVID-19 than adults, they can still more easily spread the virus without exhibiting symptoms when they get back home. Stenehjem recommends that schools should be extra cautious next week as the omicron surge is at its peak. 

“This is happening at a terrible time when kids are going to schools, and I hope local school districts are taking this to heart. They should really be thinking about how to implement mitigations to stop the spread,” Stenehjem said. “We will be seeing spread if kids aren’t wearing masks.”

Even with the omicron surge, Stenehjem said he has a hopeful outlook for 2022 and even if things aren’t completely back to normal, it’s better than last year at this time. He said it is just a time to be more cautious in the next few weeks.

“People can get in the doomsday mindset, but we’re in a very different place now,” Stenehjem said. “We have vaccines and boosters, we have antivirals and we know what works. What we hope to see is this is a small blip. But this is the time to be determined to use the mitigation efforts we know that work as families and communities. Wear masks; avoid in-person meetings. It’s going to be hard. Nobody wants to see this happening, but we have the tools to get through it.”

Southern Utah coronavirus count as of Thursday, according to Utah Department of Health

Positive COVID-19 tests: 46,547 (7-day average of 113.71 per day, up 55.2% in last week)

Active cases: 1,757 (rising since Dec. 22)

  • Washington County (High in Transmission Index): 501.32 per 100K rate in 14 days, falling since Dec. 22
  • Iron County (High): 385.47, falling
  • Kane County (Moderate): 277.99, rising
  • Garfield County (Low): 257.43, falling
  • Beaver County (High): 384.56, rising

Hospitalized: 50 (no change, data not updated since Dec. 22)

Deaths: 497 (12 since Dec. 22)

New infections per day in Southern Utah:

  • Friday (Dec. 24): 107
  • Saturday (Dec. 25): 61
  • Sunday (Dec. 26): 97
  • Monday (Dec. 27): 49
  • Tuesday (Dec. 28): 111
  • Wednesday (Dec. 29): 183
  • Thursday (Dec. 30): 189

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,898 (rising)

Fully vaccinated in  Southern Utah: 118,352 (45.3% fully vaccinated, +0.03% since Dec. 22)

  • St. George: 48.78% fully vaccinated (+0.28%)  
  • Cedar City: 40.99% (+0.25%) 
  • Washington City: 44.31% (+0.3%) 
  • Ivins/Santa Clara: 51.96% (+0.29%) 
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 38.72% (+0.23%)  
  • Enterprise/Veyo/Springdale/Hildale: 44.37% (+0.15%) 
  • Beaver/Garfield/Kane counties: 44.23% (+0.26%)

Southern Utah schools with active COVID-19 infections as of Thursday, according to Utah Department of Health

NOTE: Utah Department of Health currently provides only ranges of the number of infections in each district, rather than exact figures. Figures may be an overall undercount as not all infections among students are reported to the state.

    • Washington County School District: 46 to 127 (rising since Dec. 22)
    • Iron County School District: 7 to 28 (steady)
    • Kane County School District: 1-4 (rising)
    • Garfield County School District: 0 (steady)
    • Beaver County School District: 1-4 (falling)
    • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 10-26 (rising)
    • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 0 (falling)

Schools in yellow (In danger of moving to test-to-stay): None
Schools in red (Students/staff must test negative to attend): None
Top 5 schools: Snow Canyon High (Washington) 9 active infections, Vista School (Southwest Utah Charter) 6, Washington Fields Intermediate (Washington) 5, Dixie High (Washington) 5, several others at 1-4.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 5 and over. Those 5-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use to find clinics that have the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Those who can receive a booster dose: Those who received Pfizer or Moderna at least six months ago and are 16 or older. Those who received Johnson & Johnson at least two months ago and are 18 or older. Booster shots can be of any form of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department remains online appointment only. Some pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments. Check the links below before going.
  • Must wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S. 400 East, St George

For hours and more information: Click here 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St., Panguitch.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver.

For hours and more information: Click here 

St. George Regional Hospital/Intermountain Healthcare:

Where: 400 East Campus St. George Regional Hospital,  544 S. 400 East, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

FourPoints Health:

Where: Various locations.

For hours and more information:: Click here

Revere Health:

Where: Revere Health Campus,  2825 E. Mall Drive, St. George.

Reservations: Call (435) 673-6131 to determine if the vaccine is available.


Where: 745 N Dixie Dr in St. George and 915 Red Cliffs Dr. in Washington City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 1189 E. 700 South in St. George and 3520 Pioneer Parkway in Santa Clara.

Reservations: Click to register

Lin’s Marketplace:

Where: 1930 W. Sunset Blvd. and 2928 E. Mall Drive in St. George, 1120 State St. in Hurricane and 150 N Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Smith’s Food and Drug:

Where: 20 N. Bluff St. and 565 S. Mall Drive in St. George and 633 S. Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 275 S River Rd. in St. George.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 2610 Pioneer Rd. in St. George, 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use to find a location near you

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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