Mark Newman: The Tribune is wrong about TestUtah and the state’s COVID response

Nomi Health’s TestUtah helped Utah rank No. 1 in states response to pandemic.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nomi Health, who opened their first location for infant and pediatric COVID vaccine services at West Valley City Centennial Park, processes COVID vaccines and tests on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

For the past two years, The Salt Lake Tribune has questioned the effectiveness of TestUtah and the companies that provided lifesaving services through the program. The paper omits select facts about the state’s response to COVID-19. We support The Tribune’s independence but believe recent one-sided claims from opinion editor George Pyle and unsubstantiated accusations of government corruption from cartoonist Pat Bagley are two examples that have gone too far.

More people should ask why they’re acting this way. Why is more space not allotted to people such as Kristen Cox, who made a strong case for what TestUtah got right? What facts are ignored by the Opinion page team?

A National Bureau of Economic Research study showed Utah ranked No. 1 — the best in the nation. Economists not only looked at health decisions, but also how those decisions impacted each state’s economy and public schools. Utah, along with Nebraska (No. 2), Florida (No. 6) and Iowa (No. 11), where Nomi Health also worked, effectively limited the pandemic’s public health risks while also keeping businesses and schools open.

TestUtah opened in the earliest days of the pandemic while tests were rationed in other parts of the country. The company I lead, Nomi Health, helped provide no- or low-cost COVID testing for law enforcement, emergency personnel and healthcare workers at the pandemic’s onset, as well as for colleges and universities, long-term care facilities, rural communities, women’s prisons, meatpacking plants, factories, railyards, agricultural farms and homeless shelters.

We operated more than 200 COVID testing and vaccination sites across 15 states. We served more than 15 million Americans, including more than 1.5 million here in Utah. We tested more than 130,000 Americans each day during major surges. We accommodated patients in 10 languages in our call centers. For hundreds of days straight, our team scaled up, pivoted, rushed to hotspots and took on the hairiest of Utah’s pandemic challenges.

Nomi Health was able to do this because we brought a wealth of healthcare and clinical expertise to the table — employing nearly 2,000 clinicians, doctors, molecular biologists, and nurses on the front lines. Together with our technology and operations experience, we were able to develop and implement a successful statewide testing program.

We provided testing in Utah, Florida, Nebraska and Iowa at an average of $49 per test. That is 60% below the $123 Medicare rate, approximately half the cost of other local providers here in Utah, and one-seventh the cost Verily charged the state of California. More than 100 days after the expiration of federal funding, we continue testing those living in the U.S. at no cost regardless of their insurance status.

We worked with the state of Utah at every turn and partnered with the most trusted names in healthcare — including ARUP and HCA Healthcare. We used market-leading, EUA-authorized tests from the state and others that continue to be in good standing with the FDA. We answered to any audits. We responded to and won multiple open state bidding processes, in which any healthcare organization could participate.

The Tribune consistently fails to mention any of these facts, and it begs the question: Why? It’s personal.

The chairman of the newspaper’s board of directors, Paul Huntsman, can’t let his brother’s primary election loss in 2020 go. His heavy-handed obsession has led him to weaponize the newsroom. He has worked to undermine the success of Gov. Spencer Cox’s COVID response including TestUtah. He obsessively spends his time and money sowing distrust with the public. This has created tension with a growing list of disgruntled current and former staffers, even as Paul deemed his own staff incompetent to The Washington Post and “compromised” to USA Today.

As Utah’s leading independent voice, The Tribune must come to terms with the motivations behind its reporting. It cannot continue to ignore the fact that Utah’s government performed the best in the nation during the pandemic on every front: the economy, education, and mortality.

Mark Newman

Mark Newman is the CEO and co-founder of Nomi Health.