Department of Defense helps staff new St. George monoclonal antibody treatment site

The facility will serve older adults, who are vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A new treatment center for monoclonal antibodies is shown to media, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in Murray. The Utah Department of Health, which will operate the facility, will use the treatment for those sick with COVID-19 and provide infusions for up to 50 patients per day.

In southwest Utah, Snowbirds, also known as elderly retirees, now have access to another tool to help them fight off any COVID-19 infections. A new facility in St. George opened up for older adults in this part of the state to get monoclonal antibody therapy, a treatment to help fight off a COVID-19 infection.

Last week, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) announced the opening of the St. George monoclonal site. This site will expand access to populations eligible for this treatment from southwestern Utah, including individuals who have recently tested positive, are symptomatic, and who have health conditions or advanced age that may put them at higher risk of hospitalization.

As age is closely linked to the risk of hospitalization, the fact that St. George has double the rate of older adults than the state at large makes it an optimal location for this service.

Monoclonal antibody treatment uses artificially created proteins to mimic the body’s immune system to help fight off COVID-19 infections. Monoclonal antibody treatment has been in use since last November, public health officials said and can be effective if taken immediately after a person shows symptoms of COVID-19.

Public health officials say the treatment could cut the number of high-risk patients who end up hospitalized with COVID-19 by one-eighth.

The monoclonal antibody facility in St. George is a joint mission between UDOH and various military branches of the Department of Defense, which has deployed 15 U.S. Air Force staff, including doctors, nurses and other health care workers, to help with mitigating COVID-19 in southern Utah.

The staff is part of a clinical response team deployed to Utah after a request through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Utah submitted two weeks ago, said Kevin McCulley, the UDOH public health and emergency preparedness manager.

“As we seek to expand the number of individuals treated with monoclonal antibodies, the Utah Department of Health coordinated with health care partners, and assessed case counts by population centers and demographics in Utah and determined that St. George is an optimal location for a new state-supported site,” said McCulley.

The five-county region of Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington has over 41,558 cases and 413 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and 49 patients are currently hospitalized. Since Oct. 28, the region has had 700 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.

Residents can find out if they qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy by using the health department’s risk calculator. This calculator screens persons needing treatment by asking questions about whether they are at the highest risk for being hospitalized from COVID-19.

According to Charla Haley, public information officer for UDOH, the state health department operates two monoclonal antibody facilities — in Murray and St. George. Monoclonal antibody treatments are available at various hospitals and outpatient clinics throughout the state in addition to the two operated by UDOH, Haley said.

The new facility, which opens from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is at the old hospital site of Intermountain Healthcare. Treatment is offered at no cost to patients by the federal government.

Correction 3:00 p.m. Thursday: This article was updated to clarify who is eligible for monoclonal antibodies.

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