State leaders recommend Utahns with COVID-19 symptoms not get tested

Older Utahns and those with underlying conditions should still get tested, Utah state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen advised.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Gov. Spencer Cox at a news conference related to COVID-19 at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.

The Cox administration on Friday announced they are recommending Utahns with COVID-19 symptoms not to get tested and instead stay home and isolate as the state faces a critical coronavirus testing shortage.

“We’re recommending people who have symptoms, they really should stay home, act as if they have COVID and not necessarily need to go get tested,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, Utah’s state epidemiologist, at a press conference at the Capitol building. “Instead of getting tested, instead of going out and exposing more people we recommend anyone who has symptoms stays home.”

Older adults and those with underlying conditions should still get tested, Nolen advised. As of Jan. 3, Utah health officials recommend residents isolate themselves for five days after testing positive or exhibiting symptoms if symptoms have improved. After isolation, it is recommended for people to wear masks for an additional five days.

“If you’re elderly, we do recommend you still go get tested so that you can understand what your risk is,” she said.

In order to preserve tests, the state is also temporarily pausing its Test to Stay program, which requires COVID-19 testing for students in schools encountering an outbreak. State lawmakers on Thursday recommended a pause on the state’s Test to Stay program.

“We’ve been running into operational challenges as more and more students and educators and staff have had to stay home to either recover from COVID,” said Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of public instruction. “These numbers, as you’ve heard, continue to be on the rise and action needs to be taken to ensure that our schools remain safe and functional.”

The announcement comes after Utah education leaders on Thursday announced they would allow children to learn online temporarily as schools face COVID-19 outbreaks. The Utah Department of Health on Thursday reported a staggering 12,990 new COVID-19 cases, exacerbated by the omicron variant. The state also reported on Thursday that 3,007 school-aged children had tested positive for the virus.

“The virus has changed significantly,” Cox said during the press conference.

He said the value of testing has changed because contact tracing with the current number of cases the state is facing is “virtually impossible.” Still, state officials expect a back-order of hundreds of thousands of new COVID-19 tests in the next week or two, according to Cox.

“Because (omicron) is so much more contagious … many more of our nurses and doctors and those who work at the hospital system are also getting this despite mask-wearing,” he said. “They are catching omicron.”

Cox urged Utahns to get vaccinated and boosted to protect themselves against the contagious omicron variant. He added that health officials are asking the public to wear N95 masks to protect themselves against the virus.

Despite the state’s record-high cases, Cox said he was more optimistic now than at any other point of the pandemic.

“With Omicron spreading so rapidly that will help us move on, that will give us the type of immunity that we needed all along to get us through this, combined with vaccines,” he said. “We will be able after this, in the next couple of weeks as those numbers come down, significantly to return to normal.”

Last week, Salt Lake and Summit counties issued mask mandates as the state faces mounting coronavirus cases. Days later, Cox exempted state-run facilities from the mask requirements, a decision denounced by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.

Cox said he expects the state to hit its COVID-19 case peak in two weeks and that the pandemic will soon enter an endemic phase.

Senate President Stuart Adams, who planned on speaking at the news conference, was absent on Friday after testing positive for COVID-19.

House Speaker Brad Wilson said COVID-19 was rapidly spreading in the community and infecting and affecting every Utahn.

“This pandemic has proven to be anything but predictable. We all recognize that so we need to be very flexible and adaptable as we move through this current wave,” he said.