Trent Staggs: We need universal and repeat testing to stop COVID-19

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Daniel Salas working at a COVID-19 testing station at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

We need a better plan to decrease coronavirus case counts. Each day we see new headlines that COVID-19 cases are up. This is now after seven months of the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems that we still do not have a viable plan to contain its spread.

Increased mask wearing is critical, yet it is not a silver bullet. In Salt Lake County, we have already achieved 90% to 96% compliance with mask wearing. Despite this, case counts and hospital bed use are rising. With spiking case counts in Salt Lake County, we are faced with the question: “Where do we go from here?”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson recently said that we are “out of options,” except for a shutdown, in our ability to decrease COVID-19 case counts in the county. I do not believe this is the case and think that there is much more that we can and should be doing to save lives and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

First and foremost, we need universal and repeat testing for every resident. Other countries, such as South Korea, which have case counts much lower than ours, have proved that this is the most effective way to find those who are spreading the virus and prevent them from doing so.

This approach is effective because we are able to quickly find and isolate exactly where the coronavirus is in our community. When people test positive, they quarantine and no longer interact with the public where they could spread the virus. This allows us to actively take live COVID-19 pathogens out of our community every day. This is not something we are currently doing.

Ask yourself, which is more effective? People carrying COVID-19 who wear a mask yet continue to go in public because they are unaware that they are positive? Or people who have COVID-19, know they are positive because they have been tested, and quarantine from interacting with the public at all.

Not only is this the most effective way to combat the spread of COVID-19, but it is also the least detrimental to society at large. Rather than shutdowns, we can find those who are positive, give peace of mind to those who are negative with opportunities to continually get tested, and children can still go school and parents can continue to work.

Unfortunately, this county administration has proved inept at testing, abandoning mobile testing within days of it being tried and also making personally identifiable information public on a county website for days in violation of HIPAA.

And, perhaps worst of all, the county is still sitting on nearly $100 million of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, funding it received over six months ago that could have been used in this effort to safeguard our residents, provide for testing and lead in economic recovery.

We have the technology that would allow residents to sign up online or via their phone, be directed to one of potentially hundreds of locations, and find out almost immediately if they are infected. This would cut back on lost days of work and school, alleviate anxiety, protect our most vulnerable and save lives.

Providing universal and repeat testing has been my position since March, when the outbreak began. This is how I would have handled the pandemic differently. I take this pandemic very seriously and believe that we need real, effective solutions to combat it.

Without an effective plan, we will continue to see case counts rise until we have a vaccine. Many lives could be saved in the meantime.

Trent Staggs

Trent Staggs is Riverton’s mayor and a candidate for Salt Lake County mayor.