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Increased outdoor activity due to COVID-19 causes surge in search and rescue calls

Posted at 8:27 PM, Sep 28, 2020

Most search and rescue teams in Utah have experienced an increase in call outs this year, which many are attributing to COVID-19.

“Because of COVID-19, a lot more people are recreating locally,” said Wasatch County Search and Rescue’s Kam Kohler. “New people in boats, new people on side-by-sides, people are recreating close to home.”

In southern Utah, the pandemic is also drawing in out-of-state visitors.

“We’ve been averaging about 14 rescues a month so far,” said Sgt. Darrell Cashin, the liaison between Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Search and Rescue. “Out of those people, the people we’ve been rescuing, averaging about 60 percent are not from Washington County.”

As of Monday evening, Washington County SAR has responded to 135 emergency calls in 2020, which is a record for the agency. Last year, there were 130 call outs for Washington County SAR.

“I attribute a lot of it to COVID, I really do,” said Sgt. Cashin. “When it came out and everybody kind of got locked down, and then the only safe place was to go outside and so people are going outside.”

While most of the state has seen increases, Grand County sticks out with a decrease in call outs from the same time last year, likely due to the closure of recreation spots in Grand County earlier this year due to the pandemic.

Washington County SAR135 in 2020,130 in all of 2019
Iron County SAR13 in 2020,18 in all of 2019
Utah County SAR110 in 2020,88 in all of 2019
Salt Lake County SAR53 in 2020,46 as of 9/28/19
Davis County SAR35 in 2020,42 in all of 2019
Grand County SAR81 in 2020,108 as of 9/28/19
Wasatch County SAR130 in 2020

“When you start asking volunteers to come out as much as we have, you’re almost turning it into a job, and you know, they have jobs already that actually pay them,” said Sgt. Cashin, who notes that his volunteers have continued to answer the call despite the pandemic. “We’ve had a few staff members that have ended up with COVID. I currently have one right now that does have it and it’s pretty aggressive with him.”

Luckily, less than a handful of Washington County SAR members have tested positive for the virus despite lots of close contact with rescue patients. Sgt. Cashin also notes that as an organization that replies heavily on donations, they haven’t been coming in. That leads to some concern for 2021 in terms of equipment and training needs.

With a few months left in 2020, SAR members want to remind the public of changing weather conditions and to always be prepared for the ‘what-if’ scenario.

To learn more about joining or donating to a specific search and rescue organization, each organization has a Facebook page linked in the graphic above.

*Note - There are more SAR organizations than those listed in this story. To learn more about your county's search and rescue team, reach out directly or visit your county website.