There’s Some Confusion Over Access To COVID Testing In Utah

On Tuesday, the Utah State Department of Health update covered COVID testing access and highlighted a couple of log jams they’re experiencing as they manage a response to the virus.

Governor Gary Herbert participated in the daily health briefing, appearing at the podium with a face mask, which he subsequently removed in order to be heard more clearly.

“I’m showing off my latest fashion statement with the COVID-19 prevention mask and I think it’s becoming the symbol of the times we’re in today.  And I expect more and more the people of Utah will be walking around these masks on to help protect them from spreading and catching the coronavirus.”

Herbert fielded a question about testing for COVID-19. He says they’d like to test everyone, but they haven’t got the capacity to test more than three or 4,000 people a day.

“We don’t have the capability of testing everybody. We would like to test to make sure that there’s no backlog of people waiting that have symptoms. So, we have a screening process that we go through and those that have symptoms can make arrangements then to come and get a test. We have the ability to do that with virtually no backlog. We’re having much more success giving the test. The challenge we face right now, to me, is a little bit on the laboratory side where we have a little bit of pinch points. The laboratory can’t keep up with the tests that are being given. So, we’re a little concerned about that.”

The Department of Health reported Monday that local hospitals and test centers were concerned about a swab shortage, but state Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn says they’re working diligently to get more supplies. In contrast to the Governor’s comments, she says they have not reached capacity on lab services.

“Right now, our laboratories in collaboration with ARUP, Intermountain, the Utah Public Health Laboratory and our test partners have a capacity around 4,000 to 4,500 tests to run daily and we have not met that capacity yet. And so, people who are symptomatic can seek out testing if their provider thinks that they are an appropriate person to be tested for COVID-19. We do have the capacity to test them.”

Antibody testing, Dunn says is important for pandemic response because it shows who has been exposed and who has immunity.

“Those tests are still in the development phase. The CDC is working to develop a serology or a blood test to determine if somebody has antibodies to COVID-19. And I know locally ARUP is doing something similar.  So, we are hopeful that within the coming weeks we will potentially be able to use this test to determine who in our population has been exposed to COVID-19 and who potentially has immunity to it.”

For Sunday and Monday, state reports show about 600 tests being done which is a sharp decline from last week’s 2,000 to 3,000 tests per day.

“Yeah, so we’ve kind of seen this a little bit throughout the outbreak. Monday’s and Tuesday’s show a little dip in our testing, and that’s because we have this lag in the negative test results coming towards us. And we also are seeing less demand over the weekend. So, it’s a combination of potentially less demand from the weekend, and then also a three-day lag in the negative tests coming in. And so, we’ll potentially see an uptick Wednesday Thursday and Friday of this week. So, we’ll watch out for that.”

As of Tuesday, there are a total of 148 hospitalizations in Utah, with Summit County having 21 and Wasatch County four. DR. Dunn says hospitalizations represent about 8% of those diagnosed with COVID, but they don’t have data about who is in the hospital and how long they stay. In response to a question about length of hospital stay, Dunn replied:

“We are working with our hospital partners to understand who’s currently hospitalized for COVID-19. So, we’re hoping in the coming days if not this week, next week, we will actually be able to understand who is currently hospitalized with COVID-19.”

Every age is susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Utah residents age 25 to 44 years represents 40% of positive cases. The next highest is the age range of 45 to 64 years at 31%.

A link to coronavirus statistics can be found here.

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