Rural Utah health departments preparing for coronavirus; Moab area concerned over tourists

By Alex Cabrero, KSL TV | Posted - Mar. 18, 2020 at 8:17 p.m.

PRICE, Utah — Health departments and medical services in rural Utah counties are preparing staff and resources in case of a large coronavirus outbreak.

In these rural communities, it’s never been called social distancing — that’s because being apart from each other is part of life.

Now, it’s almost an order because the novel coronavirus could spread to these communities, and county health departments may not have the hospital beds or equipment needed.

“We’re trying to be as prepared as possible,” said Jayden Brian, communications director for the Wayne Community Health Center.

At the Bicknell location, people are being stopped at the door by a staff member to have their temperature checked.

It’s a precaution since once of the symptoms of coronavirus is a fever.

“What we want to do is be able to attend to the patients outside of the clinic,” Brian said. “That way we can prevent that illness from being spread within the clinic.”

With fewer doctors and medical staff in rural areas, it’s important to keep them healthy.

Staff members are being rotated in and out of weeklong shifts at the Wayne Community Health Center to try and minimize disruption if the virus swept into the clinic.

“With our limited amount of providers, we want to keep them as healthy as we can,” Brian said.

In Green River, the medical center has a back door that leads right to an exam room for patients that need further testing.

However, if someone is suspected of having coronavirus, that patient is sent to a bigger hospital.

“We are screening patients in their vehicle, checking for symptoms, fever,” said Shannon Thurston, associate director of the Green River Medical Center. “Right now, we don’t have the COVID-19 testing. We do send them to Moab Regional Hospital or Castleview Hospital in Price if that’s necessary.”

Moab is an area being watched closely by the Southeast Utah Health Department.

With school out and many people not going into an office for work, it’s caused lots of people to arrive in the small town to getaway.

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However, thousands of extra people could be a burden to the area if the coronavirus spreads.

“For us, the scary part is the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system in this rural area that’s not equipped to handle a surge of patients,” said Brady Bradford, director of the Southeast Utah Health Department based in Price.

On Tuesday, restaurants in Grand, Emery, and Carbon counties were asked to shut down and provide only takeout meals in order to try and force social distancing and prevent people from gathering in groups.

Later in the day, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered all restaurants in the state to suspend dine-in services for the next two weeks, beginning Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.

“There are elements that we don’t exactly know what we would do if we got overwhelmed, but we are preparing the best we can,” Bradford said. “Right now, the message in Utah is stay at home and limit your movement. However, we’re seeing the movement is coming to us."

Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources
  • To help mitigate infectious transmission of COVID-19, health care officials advise anyone who thinks they might have the virus to first call their doctor before going to a hospital
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Cough or sneeze in your elbow or a tissue
Risk and symptoms
  • Utah is seeing a growing number of cases, state counts by county can be found here and global updates can be found here.
  • Infected patients typically have a fever, cough and shortness of breath
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