COVID-19 Q&A: ‘It will come here, so prepare’

Workers install a large tent, large enough that multiple semi-trucks can drive into it, in the parking lot at Sanpete Valley Hospital. The tent will be used for Emergency Department overflow if needed, according to public information specialist Shauna Watts.

Even though there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Sanpete County, residents should not be cavalier about the highly contagious virus, says Nate Selin, director of the Central Utah Health Department.

Without a doubt, the new coronavirus will soon spread to central Utah, he says. Five cases popped up in the St. George area last weekend, and there are sure to be more.

“We get the flu virus just like everybody else,” he said. “The idea that we won’t have the virus in our communities just because we’re rural and more isolated is inaccurate.”

So get rid of that thought. And because it’s not here yet, the people in central Utah have the luxury of time to prepare and proactively do things to slow the spread of the disease, he says.

Residents of Sanpete County have been heeding the advice of staying at least 6 feet apart, and the Sanpete and Sevier County commissioners and school superintendents are supporting the governor’s recommendations to shutdown gatherings of more than 10 people and dismiss schools.

The pending arrival of COVID-19 has people in Sanpete County filled with questions. So the staff at the Sanpete Messenger gathered the most pressing ones and asked Selin and his staff if they could help put our minds at ease:

Question: Can  someone get tested for COVID-19 in Sanpete County? How would he or she do that?

Testing is available but you need to follow the protocols. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider or the Utah COVID-19 hotline at 800-456-7707 for medical advice.

Public health officials are asking the public to avoid going to hospitals and clinics for COVID-19 testing if symptoms aren’t present. Instead, use telehealth or call your healthcare provider to find out if testing is necessary so that hospitals, clinics, and ER’s are not overloaded. Health care facilities report the high volume of visits from healthy people is affecting their ability to provide care for those truly in need.


Question:What are the people of central Utah most concerned about while coping with the new coronavirus?

People seem to be most concerned about the fast-changing landscape we are all facing in trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Those include school dismissals, social distancing, dining restrictions (drive through or curbside pickup, etc.) and closure or cancellation of events in which large gatherings would be taking place, such as conferences, public meetings, even Senior Citizen center meals.


Question:Has there even been a single case of COVID-19 in Central Utah?

As of today (Monday March 23) there has not been a case of COVID-19 in our Central Utah Public Health District (Sanpete, Sevier, Juab, Millard, Wayne and Piute counties).


 Question: Because there are almost no cases here, is it really necessary to close schools, restaurants and much of the economy down?

The governor, and the state school superintendent, along with the local school administrators, all felt it was in the best interest of both our student population and the general public in our six counties to dismiss schools, in order to reduce the possibility of students getting infected and bringing the virus home to their family members. That could include the most vulnerable population, elderly persons and immunocompromised people.


Question: What are some of the unique challenges you face in protecting a rural environment?

Rural environments present about the same challenges as more urban environments, just generally fewer of them. Since the virus spreads from person to person, the fewer people an infected person might interact with, the fewer people they are likely to infect.

So, the risk is relatively lower, just based on population numbers. However, rural environments mean that our citizens will often travel farther to get the goods and services, making it more likely that they may spread a virus farther, or pick up a virus and bring it back to their community.


Question: Do you think the new coronavirus will spread to rural Utah; and if so, when?

The coronavirus will certainly spread to rural Utah, and in fact has already done so. There are only four of the 13 local health districts in the state that do not have at least one case of COVID-19 in their district so far.


Question: Can groups of people still gather outdoors, in such activities as golf, tennis, hiking and fishing, it they maintain adequate social distancing?

While we would encourage people to get exercise and enjoy outdoor activities, we would hope that they maintain adequate social distancing, 6 feet, from other persons.


Question: Are restaurants and gyms complying with the governor’s order to remain closed except to drive through or take-out traffic? Have you heard about any violators?

Yes, they are. We live in a great community, and the people are committed to protect the health of it.


Question: Most banks and credit unions in Central Utah Health Department District have closed their lobbies and are serving people at drive-through windows only. But the Sanpete County Courthouse is still open, many other office-type businesses are open, and virtually all retail business have cashiers who are serving dozens to hundreds of people every shift. What suggestions do you have for businesses to minimize risk?

The CDC has issued guidelines for businesses. Employers should reduce transmission among employees by actively encouraging sick employees to stay home and educating employees about reducing the spread. Employers should also maintain healthy business operations with a flexible sick-leave policy and maintain a healthy work environment with appropriate cleaning and ventilation systems.

Question: With kids out of school, is it OK for them to get together in small groups (fewer than 10) at friends’ houses to do school work, and is it OK for kids to sleep over with friends?

Working together on assignments may be OK, but sleepovers, no.


Question: If we do get a COVID-19 outbreak, including hospitalizations, is the county ready? Do we have available hospital beds, masks, gloves, protective gear and ventilators?

Yes, there has been a lot of effort put forth to prepare our district as long as we can follow the recommendations set by the governor and slow the spread of the disease.


Question: If intensive care beds filled up on the Wasatch Front, would our hospitals be able to offer intensive care locally? Could we convert regular rooms to intensive care rooms? Do we have doctors and nurses who could offer that level of care?

That has not been addressed at this point.


Question: If someone sees a situation that concerns them, such as a crowd of people at a restaurant that isn’t complying, what should they do?

First of all, please do not join them, compounding the problem. Secondly, the governor has clarified the order regarding mass gatherings and the enforcement of that order. He has asked Utah residents to use common sense but said Utah is not setting up a “police state” to arrest people if they do gather in larger groups. If a food establishment is not in compliance, contact the health department and we will investigate.


 Question: Anything else you want to add?.

We would recommend that everyone follow Central Utah Public Health on Facebook and Twitter, as well as our website at centralutahpublichealth.org We also recommend that everyone follows the states coronavirus.utah.gov site for the most up to date information.