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Salt Lake County to resume free drive-thru COVID-19 testing this week

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Rachel Black, Salt Lake County Health Department environmental health scientist, collects information from people waiting in their vehicles for drive-thru COVID-19 testing outside of Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 22, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County will resume its free drive-thru COVID-19 testing efforts this week in areas disproportionately affected by the virus.

“We chose to suspend testing for a week after we were inundated with individuals ... from outside of those target areas,” Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said during a Salt Lake City Council work meeting Tuesday. “We really want the focus to be on those communities, so we’ve strategized, rethought our efforts and testing efforts will begin resuming this week.”

Salt Lake County canceled its free drive-thru testing last month citing supply shortages and lack of efficiency.

Utah’s Hispanics and Latinos in “hot spot” communities have been hit especially hard during the pandemic, both in number of infections and in unemployment.

Testing will resume in ZIP codes hit hardest by the virus: Rose Park, Glendale, Magna and West Valley City, but the days and times have yet to be announced.

“What we found in our original testing events is between 50% to 76% we were testing in our testing events that were meant for our hot spot areas ... were from outside the ZIP codes in which we were intending to test,” said Erin Litvack, Salt Lake County deputy mayor, during the City Council work meeting.

She said officials are reworking their communication strategies to target those areas and hopefully reach people in the hot spot areas.

“We’re doing it in a very sort of targeted communications strategy way to reach the community itself and not have a broad distribution of information going out into the broader community,” Litvack said.

The county is working with several local community leaders, health care workers and agencies within those communities to make sure they have the services and support they need.

Litvack said the county wants to make sure the communities know they have a food delivery program available and quarantine facilities they can use for free. She said they are also working with the state so these communities have access to rent and utility assistance.

“Over the last week, we’ve been partnering with the state on distributing masks, specifically in our hot spot ZIP codes but also in our low-income ZIP codes throughout Salt Lake County,” Litvack said.

Masks will be distributed through the county’s library system. Reusable cloth masks will be provided rather than disposable masks so that people can clean and reuse them, she said.

The council also discussed the turnaround times on drive-thru tests because it has often taken a week or longer to process them.

“(Testing time) is still a problem. It’s a problem for the individual waiting for it, it’s a problem for us in our contact tracing efforts because you have that much more delay with individuals being out there,” he said.

Edwards said the state health department is exploring other options and researching other labs to help reach their goal of a 24-hour turnaround time on the tests.