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University of Utah announces plan to test all students in effort to stem COVID-19 surge

Utah governor holds emergency meeting after another day of nearly 3,000 new cases

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Nurse supervisor Jennie McQueen, speaks with a family about the COVID-19 pandemic at a drive-thru test site in the parking lot of Rice Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s COVID-19 case counts continue to skyrocket, Gov. Gary Herbert met with other officials for an emergency meeting Saturday to decide on additional measures to fight the surge.

Health officials, meanwhile, reported another 2,956 new cases, nine additional deaths and a record 410 current COVID-19 hospitalizations on Saturday.

It marks the third day in a row with nearly 3,000 additional cases confirmed and is just 31 cases shy of the record set Friday.

The state’s Unified Command team tasked with making decisions in the pandemic is considering options including regularly testing college students for the disease, Herbert’s office confirmed.

“Governor Herbert has been working closely with public health officials and legislative leadership and will be making additional announcements soon,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted Friday night.

University of Utah officials announced Saturday that all students will need to get tested for COVID-19 before fall and winter breaks.

“It’s a tall order: Test more than 32,000 students for COVID-19 before everyone heads out for Thanksgiving break. While that may seem like a daunting or maybe even impossible task the University of Utah is undertaking it. From Nov. 11-23, students are asked to report to one of the available locations and be tested for the coronavirus,” university officials said.

Each student will receive a notification to sign up for a time to get tested. They will not be charged for the test, officials said.

“The decision to test all students for COVID-19 is not one being taken lightly. The fact is that despite all best efforts, the number of cases of the virus is rising at an alarming rate and so additional measures to stop the spread must be taken. These tests are part of those measures.”

The university is able to undertake the massive testing effort as the state provides access to additional rapid tests to open testing to asymptomatic students.

If a student tests positive, they will need to take an additional confirmatory test through a saliva sample taken on site, according to officials. While they wait for the results, they will need to isolate to prevent spreading the disease. Those who get positive results confirmed will undergo a 14-day isolation and quarantine period.

“Students who test negative will be asked to continue their safe behaviors. Just because you test negative once doesn’t mean you haven’t been exposed, or won’t be exposed in the future. The most important thing is to continue with practices like social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing,” university officials said.

New cases

Saturday’s cases were confirmed out of 12,680 people tested, with a 23.3% positive rate. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 2,213 per day, and the average positive tests rate is 19.9%.

Utah’s intensive care units were 76.6% full overall on Saturday. The state has some 453 ICU beds in hospitals that can handle COVID-19 patients — 175 coronavirus patients were in ICUs in the state on Saturday.

As infections surge throughout the state, cases also continue to rise in health care workers. Nearly 1,700 more cases among health care workers have been confirmed in less than two weeks, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 9,400. Another death was also reported, bringing the toll in that workforce to seven, according to the state health department.

The data includes anyone who works in a health care setting, as well as those who interact with patients, including firefighters, dentists, physical therapists and those in other technical occupations.

Now 130,235 cases have been confirmed out of 1,149,506 people tested in Utah since the pandemic began, an 11.3% positive rate. Hospitalizations since the outbreak started now total 6,020 in the state.

The nine deaths reported Saturday bring the state’s toll to 658.

Four were Salt Lake County residents who were hospitalized when they died — a man older than 85, a man between 65-84, a man between 45-64, and a woman between 45-64. Two Davis County men between 65-84 were also hospitalized when they died. Three long-term care residents were also among the deaths: a Juab County woman between 65-84, a Utah County woman between 65-84, and a Utah County man older than 85.