ST. GEORGE — A large round-up to give people flu vaccinations at the fairgrounds at Washington County Regional Park will be a test run for how a COVID-19 vaccine would be distributed en masse when it becomes available.
David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the department’s annual “Flu Shootout,” normally just a drive-through event at St. George’s Red Cliffs Mall, will this year also include a larger scale vaccine distribution for all ages at the fairgrounds in Hurricane on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The drive-through at Red Cliffs Mall will also still take place during the same hours on Sept. 29 for those 18 and over only.
There are also “shoutout” events planned in Southern Utah’s other four counties throughout October.
“This time we’re asking folks to not only to get their flu shot but to practice for the COVID-19 vaccines when those are out,” Heaton said. “This is how we would distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.”
A large and rapid distribution of an eventual coronavirus vaccine takes additional meaning on a day Southern Utah saw its largest number of new infections since Aug. 6, and the statewide number spiked beyond the millennium mark in one day with 1,117 new cases.
The health department has been in the process of hiring additional staff to handle what would be an “all hands on deck” effort to make sure as many people as possible are immunized against the COVID-19 virus.
While President Donald Trump has said a vaccine will be ready by next month, most health experts say the most optimistic assessment of when a vaccine would be ready for wide distribution is next Summer.
For now, the focus is on getting as many immunized as possible against the flu. But the year of the pandemic, even that has coronavirus overtones. Guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed in the last few years that not just the young and old, but everyone above 6 months of age should get the flu vaccine. And the goal since March of not overwhelming medical services in the area could be hindered if there are not only many coronavirus cases, but flu cases as well.
“We also want to protect our hospital and healthcare resources from being overwhelmed from dealing with both flu season and the pandemic, so we’re encouraging everyone to get both a flu shot and a COVID-19 shot when it becomes available,” Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said in a statement.
This won’t be the first time the local department has used its annual flu immunization event as a dry run against a pandemic. Heaton said the department did the same thing during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that the CDC said killed 12,469 people in the U.S. in one year.
“It came really handy,” Heaton said of using a “shootout” dry run to prepare for a pandemic vaccination. “When the H1N1 vaccine came out, we were able to do it quickly.”
Heaton is well aware of those who are against vaccinations, including protesters at last month’s anti-mask protest who also held signs reading “resist forced vaccinations.”
“The burden would be if you don’t have enough people immune by exposure of vaccine. That’s when it will spread through the community,” Heaton said. “The more people that are immune, the more protected people are. That is herd immunity.”
People can also go through quicker at the event by printing and filling out the consent form online. People are asked to wear short-sleeved shirts and masks.
The flu shot will be free for those showing proof of the following insurance plans: Aetna, Cigna, DMBA, Educators Mutual, Healthy Premier, Medicare, Medicaid, MotivHealth, PEHP, Select Health, Tall Tree Administrators and United Health. Otherwise, the cost is $20.
When the COVID-19 vaccine is released, cost is not going to be a factor. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the Affordable Care Act, like the coronavirus tests an eventual COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed free of charge.
Outside Washington County, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department will hold the following Flu Shootout events:
- Iron County: Oct. 3, 9 a.m. to noon at Southern Utah University PE Building (256 N. 600 West Cedar City).
- Beaver County: Oct. 7, noon to 4 p.m. at Beaver EMS Shed (1100 N. Main).
- Kane County: Oct. 10, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kanab Fire Station (601 S. 100 East) – free for all Kane County Residents.
- Beaver County: Oct. 7, noon to 4 p.m. at Beaver EMS Shed (1100 N. Main).
- Garfield County: Oct. 8, 1-4 p.m. at Ruby’s Inn (26 S. Main in Bryce Canyon City) and Oct. 15, noon to 4 p.m. at Panguitch EMS Shed (40 N. 100 East).
Governor questions if state mandates are needed
With Utah having back-to-back days of the state’s worst since the pandemic began, Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday in a statement that he will spend the weekend considering more stringent measures with “everything on the table,” including a statewide mask mandate and moving some counties back into an orange or red coronavirus risk level.
“We have warned people that they need to stay home if they are sick, and they need to stay away from others if they have tested positive for COVID-19. They need to wear a mask around others, even when they are not sick,” Herbert said. “This week’s spikes make me seriously question if these warnings and public education are enough. I’d like to emphasize that all of the tools that government has for controlling the spread of COVID-19 are on the table. We are seriously considering each one of them.”
Herbert will be holding a meeting with legislative and health leaders Monday to consider the next steps.
Even with the record number of infections, there have been no coronavirus-caused deaths reported anywhere in the state. But Utah Department of Health officials attribute that to the low mortality rate among the 15-24 year age range of a majority of new cases. But they caution it is a certainty the virus will spread from them to more at-risk individuals, and hospitalizations aren’t usually reflected for a week.
The large portion of the spike remains in Utah County and the Brigham Young University campus with 45% (501 cases) of the total Friday.
Heaton said while Southern Utah’s educational environments have not seen outbreaks, there have been “several” cases among students and staff at Dixie State University and schools in the Washington County School District. However, he said there have been no cases attributed to catching the virus at school.
“We’ve had those test positive but none that we can tell contracted at school,” Heaton said.
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.
We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.
Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Sept. 18, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)
Positive COVID-19 tests: 3,926 (22.1 new infections per day in seven days, rising)
- Washington County: 3,065 (19 per day, rising)
- Iron County: 706 (2.6 per day, falling)
- Kane County: 74 (0.3 per day, falling)
- Garfield County: 46 (0 per day, steady)
- Beaver County: 35 (0.4 per day, rising)
Deaths: 29 (0 per day, steady)
- Washington County: 24
- Iron County: 2
- Garfield County: 2
- Kane County: 1
Hospitalized: 7 (rising)
Current Utah seven-day average: 726 (rising)
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