Utah’s coronavirus testing providers are reducing locations and hours of operations as demand for tests slows along with new cases.
But with other respiratory illnesses beginning to circulate again as Utahns increasingly forgo social distancing and masking, health experts say it remains important for patients with any symptoms to seek testing.
Some of the test sites provided by the Utah Department of Health are “scaling back a few hours,” a move that started Monday, said department spokeswoman Charla Haley.
At University of Utah Hospital, “we’re not even filling up half of our appointment slots right now,” said Kylene Metzger, a spokeswoman for the hospital, where staff closed a stadium testing center about two months ago and two weeks ago reduced test appointments.
And Intermountain Healthcare is planning to discontinue its mass testing sites in July, referring patients instead to appointments at doctors’ offices, said Jess Gomez, spokesman for the health care system.
The rise of other illnesses this summer makes a diagnosis harder “because we know that seasonal or permanent COVID-19 can cause a run-of-the-mill respiratory tract infection that looks like a cold, or it can cause severe illness and pneumonia and somebody on a ventilator,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist for Intermountain.
“Now people have a cold that could be coronavirus, that could be rhinovirus. And so it really emphasizes the fact that we need to continue to do testing in people that are symptomatic,” Stenehjem said. “Even if you think it’s just a regular cold, you still need to get tested for COVID-19.”
Utah labs now are processing about 6,000 tests per day, down from about 26,000 from the peak in early January, according to the Utah Department of Health.
For lab-processed PCR tests, most sites now are collecting saliva samples rather than deep nasal swabs. Patients should not take anything by mouth — eating, drinking, chewing gum or tobacco, or brushing teeth, for instance — for at least a half hour before the test. Rapid antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate, are completed onsite with a throat swab.
Here’s information on how to get tested at Utah’s largest providers.
University of Utah: The U. operates about a dozen sites from Ogden to Orem. At each one, the patient goes inside the clinic at a scheduled appointment and receives a kit to collect saliva. The patient leaves the building to supply the saliva sample — in their car, for example — and returns it to the clinic. Patients must have at least one symptom of COVID-19, have likely been exposed to the virus, or have an order from a health care provider or employer requiring a test.
Intermountain Healthcare: Patients must fill out a form to determine whether they qualify for testing and to schedule an appointment. At the time of the appointment, the patient picks up a saliva collection kit near the entrance of the building, provides the sample, and returns it to a marked bin at the same test site. Starting in July, tests will be scheduled through patients’ doctors offices.
Utah Department of Health sites operated by TestUtah: Patients are asked to register at TestUtah.com for an appointment at one of 14 sites statewide. The sites test patients with or without symptoms and offer saliva-based PCR tests and rapid antigen tests. Locations and hours, which have not been reduced this week, are listed here.
Utah Department of Health sites staffed by Utah National Guard personnel: Patients are asked to register via coronavirus.utah.gov for an appointment at one of 15 sites statewide. Sites offer PCR testing via swab and saliva, as well as rapid molecular and rapid antigen tests.
Some sites have reduced hours this week: there are fewer days of operation at Cottonwood Heights City Hall, the Nebo School District office, Weber State University, Highland High School; daily hours are reduced at the Utah State Fairpark and at the Cannon Health Building in Salt Lake City; and both Washington County sites as well as a site at Weber High School are not operating this week.
However, a site has been added in Uintah County and hours were expanded at Murray High School and Rio Tinto Stadium.