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'It's Like A Perpetual Spring Break': Washington County Search And Rescue Calls Rise Amid Pandemic

A helicopter flies over red and white canyons
Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue Facebook page
A Life Flight helicopter flies over Snow Canyon, where the Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue team responded to a climbing accident last week.

ST. GEORGE — In the eight years Sgt. Darrell Cashin has worked search and rescue, Sunday was the busiest day he’s ever had on the job.The first call came in at 11:30 a.m. — a twisted ankle in the desert. Five minutes later, another hiker went down in a different part of the county. By the day’s end, the county’s search and rescue team had also responded to a UTV accident, an unconscious infant and a mountain biker who ultimately lost his life.

“These were all stacked, one on the next on the next ,” said Cashin, who works as the liaison between the county sheriff’s office and the 68-person group of volunteers. “You couldn’t even get demobilized before you had one or two more going.”

As of Tuesday morning, Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue had responded to 70 calls so far this year. If the team maintains that pace, it will make 2020 their busiest year on record — something Cashin said he never expected to happen when the coronavirus pandemic began in March. But now, his views have changed.

“People are just going out because it’s the only thing they really can do right now,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t working. Kids are out of school early. I’ve had a lot guys say it’s like a perpetual spring break.” 

Cashin said calls have come in from locals and out-of-town visitors alike. In either case, he’s still concerned that his team could be exposed to COVID-19. He said they’re doing what they can to protect themselves, including wearing personal protective equipment, such as face shields, and placing masks on their patients.

But Cashin also pointed out that people should be prepared for emergencies anytime they enter the outdoors and take extra steps to minimize their chances of injury during the pandemic — a time when medical workers are already stressed. 

Chad Jones is the assistant park manager at Sand Hollow State Park, where the search and rescue team responded to a rider who had crashed a UTV over the weekend. Jones echoed the idea that visitors should keep others — including first-responders — in mind before engaging in high-risk behaviors.

“Watching out for each other and being courteous is the best message we can put out there,” Jones said. “If you’re sick or if you think you’re probably carrying [the virus], then it’s your responsibility to stay home.”

Sand Hollow State Park has been especially popular over recent weekends, drawing crowds large enough to require early closures and catch the attention of media outlets across the country

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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