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Snow College gets COVID-19 rapid tests too late for holiday testing, while Dixie State receives too few to test entire student body

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Dixie State University’s football stadium in St. George is pictured on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020.

Dixie State University’s football stadium in St. George is pictured on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah colleges and universities had hoped to test thousands of students for COVID-19 prior to Thanksgiving break, but not all colleges received rapid antigen test kits in time or there were insufficient numbers to test their entire student body.

Snow College’s first shipment of rapid antigen tests arrived Tuesday, but with its Thanksgiving break set to start on Wednesday, the soonest testing could begin is Monday, Nov. 30, when students return to the residential campus for the final weeks of the term.

Under a recently updated public health order, Utah college students who live on campus or take at least one class on campus are required to be tested biweekly starting no later than Jan. 1.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced the directive on Nov. 8 during a televised address to declare a state of emergency and detail other public health orders intended to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Weekly testing of students at Utah’s public and private colleges and universities was to begin “as soon as possible” but no later than Jan. 1. The order was later amended to require testing every two weeks.

Some Utah universities launched testing efforts within days of the order to test students prior to them leaving for the Thanksgiving break. The University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University will shift to all online classes following the upcoming holiday.

Other colleges and universities prepared by developing testing procedures and lining up people to perform the tests while they awaited shipment of test kits.

Dixie State University has received a total of 4,000 kits. The university has about 12,000 students enrolled.

“We are set up to start administering those to on a first-come, first-served basis after Thanksgiving break. Dec. 2 will be the first day we’ll be offering testing,” said spokeswoman Jyl Hall.

Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Department of Health, said one of the reasons state officials revised the testing requirement from weekly to biweekly “was to align demand with supplies. We have indicated to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) our plans for testing on both high school and college campuses, and they have committed to getting us as many rapid tests as they can.”

The state received an initial shipment of 250,000 tests last week, he said. 

The University of Utah had conducted 8,783 rapid antigen tests through Monday, with a positivity rate of 1.64%. Tests scheduled for Tuesday should bump up the number of people tested up to 9,300 tests, said U. spokesman Chris Nelson.

At Utah State University, 6,225 rapid antigen tests were conducted between Nov. 11 and Nov. 20 in Logan, Blanding and Price. The positivity rate for those tests was 1.38%.

“We’re finding that most of our positive cases from the rapid antigen tests actually do report having minor symptoms after the fact,” said USU spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler.

Weber State University, the first public university to get testing underway on Nov. 10, has conducted 4,017 of the rapid tests, with 50 positive results for a 1.24% positivity rate. Testing will continue Wednesday, said spokeswoman Allison Hess.

Rapid antigen tests can produce results within 15 minutes. It requires a swab of a lower nostril, which is applied to a test card roughly the size of a credit card, which can detect the presence of proteins found on or within the novel coronavirus.