I woke up last week with pressure in my head and a sore throat and a little tickling cough.
It wasn’t too surprising. It had been the first real warm weekend and the cottonwoods were blowing fluff everywhere. Just that time of year for the normal seasonal allergies.
Or was it?
We haven’t seen “normal” around these parts in what seems like months, and with health officials encouraging everyone to get tested, maybe it was an opportunity to do my civic duty. Plus it’s not like I had anything better to do than have a swab jammed up behind my eyeball.
I decided to go through TestUtah.com, the Silicon Slopes site that wants to “Crush the Curve,” which is kind of like flattening the curve, but for Mountain Dew drinkers.
The screening app was simple enough — give us your health data and trust us — although I was tripped up when it asked if I had a hydroxychloroquine allergy. I don’t, as far as I know. I’m also not allergic to Clorox, Lysol, essential oils or colloidal silver.
But those questions are things one would address with a doctor after testing positive. They had no place on a screening to get tested. It all made sense when my colleagues Erin Alberty and Nate Carlisle reported that the founder and CEO of Nomi Health, the company that developed the site, is on the board of Meds In Motion, the company that sold $800,000 of the anti-malarial drug to the state.
Gov. Gary Herbert has since told TestUtah to take that question out of the screening.
The last question — Do you want to be tested? — seemed like the one that mattered most. I clicked “Yes” and was given a choice of locations, Ogden, Orem, Provo, Heber, Vernal, St. George and Roosevelt.
I went with Heber City, partly because I wanted to see how testing was going in hard-hit Wasatch County (more than triple the state infection rate), but mostly because the testing site was in the parking lot of the rodeo grounds, and how often can you have a medical procedure administered next to a stable?
Wednesday morning, I drove to the fairgrounds and pulled between the cones setting up two lanes of traffic leading to the white tent where the technicians were waiting for me — or anybody, really. I was the only car there.
“It’s actually not been busy at all,” said the young woman who scanned my bar code, checked my ID and marked me off the list. Her colleague pulled on a red plastic glove up past her elbow that looked like she was about to help birth a calf.
How far up my nose were they planning to go?
The young woman with the intimidating glove ripped open the swab and handed me a tissue and proceeded to slide the swab up my left nostril — easy enough. The right nostril was worse and I flinched feeling it poking against my sinuses and my eyes began to water. The swab went into a tube and that was it.
“In 48 to 72 hours they’ll text or email you with results,” she said.
That was it. I was in and out in 90 seconds flat.
Friday evening I got the email saying the results were back (even though it wouldn’t let me log in until Saturday morning). I joined the roughly 98,000 Utahns who tested negative, which, even though I expected that’s how it would turn out, was still a relief.
More than 17,000 of those tests have been done by TestUtah and I was initially skeptical of the effort. The night of the announcement I got into a squabble with Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts on Twitter over why tech guys think they can do testing so much better than the state.
But it has expanded testing in areas that didn’t have enough, like Utah, Washington, Weber and Uinta counties, and that’s a good thing.
These tech execs also managed to turn what was initially touted as a philanthropic effort into a money-maker — $5 million to Nomi, $2 million to DOMO, and $1.8 million to Qualtrics. And now they’re moving into Iowa and Nebraska where they could reap millions more.
I don’t begrudge companies getting paid for their services. But as we saw with the Meds In Motion contract for the unproven, overpriced drugs, the rush to respond has sometimes meant caution and prudence gets put on the back burner. To make sure taxpayers weren’t taken for a ride, all of the state COVID spending should be investigated by the state auditor’s office.
The larger point when it comes to testing however, is this: Right now, we are fortunate. Utah is currently fourth in the nation in COVID tests per capita and has plenty of room to do more.
As Herbert and the state and counties move to ease some of the restrictions that have kept businesses shut down and limited group gatherings, the testing will be crucial to monitoring the effects of those changes and keeping the curve flat. So if you’re in doubt, get tested. It’s free, easy to get and as painless as being jabbed in the nose can be.
Editor’s note • Clint Betts serves on the The Salt Lake Tribune’s nonprofit board of directors.