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Southern Utah leaders want smaller Christmas gatherings as hospitalizations spike

Theo Harvey gets tested for COVID-19 outside of the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Beginning Dec. 28, Salt Lake County will offer rapid COVID-19 tests at the center, 2050 W. 3100 South, Monday through Saturday,10 a.m. to 3 p.m. No testing will be conducted Dec. 31 through Jan. 2, and registration is required at SaltLakeHealth.org.
Theo Harvey gets tested for COVID-19 outside of the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Beginning Dec. 28, Salt Lake County will offer rapid COVID-19 tests at the center, 2050 W. 3100 South, Monday through Saturday,10 a.m. to 3 p.m. No testing will be conducted Dec. 31 through Jan. 2, and registration is required at SaltLakeHealth.org.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Southern Utah hospital officials and legislative leaders on Tuesday urged residents to keep Christmas gatherings small after St. George set a new record for current COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Dr. Patrick Carroll, Dixie Regional Medical Center director, said the expected post-Thanksgiving surge “didn’t occur in the way that we thought it would.”

“And that tells me that we have a significant percent of our population in southern Utah that did follow the recommendation of our government officials, of our health care officials, and of our local mayors as we met before Thanksgiving to encourage and ask the community to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their individual families rather than with extended families and friends,” Carroll said during an Intermountain Healthcare news conference on Tuesday.

But Dixie Regional Medical Center is still experiencing high volumes of COVID-19 patients that required the hospital to expand its 32-bed intensive care unit capacity. The hospital’s orthopedic unit needed to be converted to another coronavirus unit, Carroll noted.

On Tuesday morning, Carroll said the hospital “once again set another record number of hospitalizations with 67 COVID-positive patients admitted” in St. George.

He asked other residents to “join me in your Christmas celebrations like you did in Thanksgiving to enjoy those with your immediate family, and we can have a wonderful Christmas as well.”

The hospital’s nursing staff is “exhausted” but remains committed to providing the best care to each patient, according to Carroll.

On Tuesday, Utah health officials reported another 2,302 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths. The new cases were confirmed out of 8,360 people tested, with a 27.5% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 2,478 per day, and the average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 23.7%. On Tuesday, 544 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, which is seven fewer than were hospitalized the previous day.

So far, 25,000 of the recently approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccine doses have been shipped to Utah and at least 8,518 health care workers have been vaccinated, according to state health department data.

During the Tuesday news conference, several southern Utah legislators thanked hospital workers and community members for their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many also urged continued vigilance despite hope in the form of vaccines.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said that as he recently toured Dixie Regional Medical Center, he saw the toll caring for COVID-19 patients takes on caregivers as they remain with patients who die without their family members.

“It’s been such a strange political climate around COVID, whether it be around wearing a mask or these conspiracies you hear, these conspiracy theories,” he said.

“It’s been frustrating in a lot of ways to see the various theories with social media and a lot of things. The disease is real, but I think we need to keep a balance in our lives” by keeping the economy open and taking health measures, Vickers said.

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said he’s had several friends and acquaintances die from COVID-19.

“We need to be cautious as we go into Christmas, Christmas Day ... 30% of the places where this COVID is transmitted to other people is in our homes, and we need to be protective of our health in our homes,” he said.

Ipson thanked those who work in hospitals for the “incredible” work they’ve done to help the community during the pandemic.

Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, said he’s observed more people wearing their masks in southern Utah. He thanked community members who have “stepped up and are doing their part.”

To date, 255,085 cases have been confirmed out of 1,657,278 people tested for the disease in Utah. Hospitalizations since the outbreak began now total 10,218.

The deaths reported Tuesday bring the state’s toll to 1,173. They were:

  • Salt Lake County woman, ages 65-84, long-term care resident.
  • Utah County woman, 65-84, long-term care resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, 65-84, long-term care resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Washington County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • Box Elder County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • Salt Lake County woman, 45-64, not hospitalized.
  • Utah County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
  • Utah County woman, 65-84, long-term care resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Washington County woman, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • Uintah County woman, 45-64, not hospitalized