SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge, health care workers are battling both a large increase in demand for testing and rising temperatures.

“In the last three weeks, our daily average of test volumes has increased from about 1,000 where it was maybe in mid-June, and now it’s north of 1,700,” said Michael Bronson, an administrative director with University of Utah Health who oversees the system’s drive-thru testing units.

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While Utah’s average daily testing numbers ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 for several weeks before June, they have since risen to at least 5,000 and up to 10,000 daily.

Meanwhile, U. Health and ARUP Laboratories are working on a validation study of new testing methods at some of their drive-thru sites. Those who go there for the PCR, or nasal swab, test are offered the opportunity to also take a self-administered nasal and oral test, which is observed by a health care worker to ensure it’s done correctly, Bronson said. The results are then compared to those of the PCR test, he said.

To prevent infecting those who need testing but may not have the disease — and health care workers — much of the testing takes place outside under tents, or at mobile testing units where people can pull up in their cars.

“We have implemented a number of things for our health care workers, everything ranging from ice vests and outdoor portable coolers, to mandatory breaks — kind of forced hydration breaks and those kind of things. But it is difficult out there ... and we have to be very careful,” Bronson said.

Up until this week, the sites tested all those who arrived by 3 p.m. The long lines meant workers would end up staying until 5 or 5:30 p.m., testing through the hot midafternoon hours so as not to turn anyone away, Bronson said. Now, those who arrive by 1:30 p.m. can get tested.

“Our staff are, they’re all very, very committed. When they work at these sites, it’s a badge of honor for them to be out there doing what they’re doing. And my experience is, you know, you almost have to push them to take a break because they want to be out there helping, and they’re not thinking about themselves,” Bronson said.

Due to the precautions, no serious cases of heat exhaustion or heat stroke have occurred, Bronson said, but a few workers have needed to either go inside to cool off or have gotten sent home because they were experiencing early symptoms of heat stroke.

About 1/5 of those who drive up for testing are doing so not because they have symptoms, but because they are having a procedure done and need to get tested first, Bronson said.

Health care workers are also observing more people seeking testing because they’re concerned as they watch Utah’s case numbers rise, but they aren’t experiencing any symptoms, Bronson said. Some seek testing because a state to which they plan to travel requires negative test results before entering, or because their employer requires it.

Those people shouldn’t seek testing at the U. Health testing sites, he said, and get referred to other locations including those managed by TestUtah.

However, the “overwhelming majority” of those seeking testing are experiencing symptoms, according to Bronson.

He said the system doesn’t have capacity to continue testing at its current rate. The issue isn’t a shortage of testing kits or personal protective equipment — it’s people who can do the job.

U. Health is working to hire 100 more health care workers who can manage it.

“Because we’re staffing the tents — and we’ve been doing that without hiring — we’ve been pulling people away from other clinical functions. But as our health care system sort of ramps back up after the shut downs and whatnot, we have demands on our staff in other areas of our health system,” Bronson said.

The system also recognizes that it will need a dedicated workforce, as the need for testing “will be with us for a while,” he said.

Bronson asked for patience as health care workers continue to grapple with increasing demand for tests.

“We’re doing our best, our health care workers are doing their best, and I hope that people realize that kindness and patience go a long way right now,” he said.

When asked whether TestUtah locations are also experiencing a rise in demand, Mark Newman, CEO of Nomi Health, said in a statement, “TestUtah is built to support increased COVID-19 testing demand in our community. We benefit from our sole focus on COVID testing.

“We have wait times at our tents of less than 10 minutes when you sign up online and a highly qualified team of sample collectors, and are committed to expanding testing stations to any additional hard hit areas that need our help. Our lab partner at Timpanogos Hospital is second to none, with results now being delivered in less than 37 hours. Due to our scale across the nation, we do not experience the same supply, processing and staffing issues that others do in our community, and we invite any concerned community member to visit us at TestUtah.com,” Newman said.

New cases

For the first time in six days, Utah confirmed fewer than 600 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, health officials said.

Of 5,277 test results reported, 546 were positive — a rate of 10.3%, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Now 30,030 people out of 418,335 tests recorded have contracted the novel coronavirus in Utah since the beginning of the pandemic, for an overall positive rate of about 7.2%.

The daily average number of new cases confirmed for the past week is 656.

In Utah’s hospitals, there are 207 people receiving treatment for COVID-19 — two fewer than on Sunday. About 1,900 overall have needed hospital treatment for the disease in Utah.

Another death with the coronavirus was reported Monday, a Weber County woman between ages 25-44 who was a resident of a long-term care facility.

About 17,700 people are now considered recovered from the disease in Utah after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses.

The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 14,869; 995 hospitalized; 130 deaths.
  • Utah County, 5,491; 272 hospitalized; 28 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 2,116; 124 hospitalized; 18 deaths.
  • Davis County, 1,909; 113 hospitalized; 6 deaths.
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 1,775; 69 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 1,580; 106 hospitalized; 15 deaths.
  • Summit County, 591; 49 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • San Juan County, 481; 61 hospitalized; 11 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 462; 20 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
  • Tooele County, 358; 16 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 271; 17 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 72; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 55; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths.