Salt Lake County Health cancels free coronavirus testing due to shortages

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this May 14, 2020, file photo, Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth performs a COVID-19 test outside the department in Salt Lake City. On Tuesday Salt Lake County health officials announced they had canceled free drive-thru testing in targeted neighborhoods because they ran out of supplies.

The Salt Lake County Health Department announced Tuesday that it was canceling numerous targeted testing events this week, citing a supply shortage.

The free, drive-thru testing operations were scheduled in Rose Park, Glendale and West Valley. The health department will spend the rest of the week restocking materials and developing efficiencies in the testing program to reduce wait times, according to a series of tweets. The program will resume targeted testing in those neighborhoods after Independence Day.

In a County Council meeting, health department executive director Gary Edwards said the shortage was due to an “overwhelming response.”

“Part of that is because we’ve had numerous individuals from outside of those target areas, including from outside Salt Lake County,” take advantage of the free testing, Edwards said, “so we’re having to change our messaging to make sure our resources can be targeted and focused in the areas that we are trying to make the biggest impact.”

The county still has at least 17 other regular testing locations available at no cost for the uninsured.

Edwards clarified that that county has not completely run out of supplies, but that the department had commitments to conduct tests for long-term care and congregate living facilities this week.

“If we had continued to hold those community targeted testing events, we would not have been able to meet the demand of either of those,” Edwards said.

The county is averaging 15,000 tests a week with help from the University of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare, the Utah Department of Health and the county health department. Salt Lake County has had 21 days in a row with 100 or more positive COVID-19 cases. Last week, there were three days that exceed 200 cases, Edwards reported.

“There are not many municipalities in Salt Lake County that have not seen a surge in cases over the past two weeks,” Edwards said. “It is pretty much across the county.”

Some populations remain more vulnerable to infection, however, including Hispanics and Latinos as well as the Pacific Islander community.

Edwards also expects to see an increase in hospitalizations “over the next few days.” There are currently 109 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, more than one-sixth of the county’s total 611 hospitalizations from the disease to date, and 102 people have died.

“The fight isn’t over yet. Just because we think we’re done with COVID doesn’t mean COVID is done with us,” said David Schuld, a special assistant to COVID-19 response for the health department and the office of Mayor Jenny Wilson.