SALT LAKE CITY — Lines of cars used to stretch around various Utah clinics offering outdoor testing for the novel coronavirus, but these days those lines are nowhere to be found.
The number of people getting tested seems to be waning.
“We’ve seen fewer people seeking out testing,” said Tom Hudachko with the Utah Department of Health. “It could mean there’s fewer people with symptoms.”
The percent of positive tests, however, has remained around 10% for the last couple of weeks and seems to be holding steady, Hudachko said.
Another 421 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total number of known infections to 42,328, according to the health department.
The rolling seven-day average has dropped to 438 positive tests per day, with a 10.1% positivity rate.
“We’re hoping that it is prevalence, that masking and mitigating has helped,” said Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Anthony Wallin, medical director of urgent care who is also managing the organization’s curbside coronavirus testing. He said the state is seeing evidence that the mask mandate in Salt Lake County is helping curtail transmission of the disease.
Masks are required throughout Salt Lake County, as well as Summit and Grand counties and the cities of Springdale and Logan. On Wednesday, Washington County mayors joined together with a proclamation to encourage face coverings be worn throughout the county whenever social distancing cannot be maintained. It asked businesses to also strongly urge patrons to wear masks.
The hope is that masks will help with the area’s rising infection rate.
Utah’s testing criteria, Wallin said, hasn’t changed, and neither has staffing or hours of operation. Wallin said his fingers are crossed that the prevalence of the virus is decreasing, but his test sites are gearing up for another surge — preparing for the worst.
An increased number of people needing to be tested for COVID-19, Wallin said, could come with schools reopening in a couple weeks, or could be further out, in the fall or winter, when other viruses tend to hit more strongly. He believes it is inevitable.
Even amid rising infection rates in some places, testing levels have dropped in at least 22 states, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
“Widespread testing is considered essential to managing the outbreak,” the AP stated, adding that the United States is approaching 5 million confirmed infections and more than 157,000 deaths out of 700,000 worldwide since the pandemic began.
Intermountain is seeing a similar trend, or drop, in its preoperative testing for coronavirus. About 15% fewer people are getting elective procedures right now, as opposed to two or three weeks ago.
Wallin believes a lot of it could also be due to Utahns taking some time off.
“People finally got the ability to go on vacations, or they feel safe now going on vacation, or they might feel like they need to get their vacations out of the way before going back to school,” he said, adding that Intermountain, which runs 25 curbside COVID-19 testing sites, is prepping as if this drop in testing “is just an anomaly.”
“We’re better off planning for what we were seeing when volumes were up than hoping that it is just going away,” Wallin said.
He said testing will most likely go up once school does start, as an increased need for contact tracing arises.
“We will need to test through the winter, or at least until immunizations become available,” he said. “We’re here to stay.”
Another thing that might be contributing to the recently lower testing numbers is what the doctor calls “COVID fatigue.”
“There might be people out there with mild symptoms who think, ‘There’s not much they can do for me and I’ll just isolate myself and mitigate spread with masking anyway, so why get tested?’” Wallin said.
Either way, he said, this drop in testing, although welcome, wasn’t anticipated.
Hudachko said the state has the capacity to test between 7,500 and 8,100 people each day, as well as process those results. At the beginning of July it was reaching capacity, with an average 3.2-day turnaround time.
With testing numbers down and lab processes (both done in and out of state), results are averaging 2.8 days, he said.
Even more than providing the data the state needs to manage the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, testing helps identify the people who have it and ensure they’re not needlessly spreading it. Being able to get people into isolation and quarantine anyone who might’ve been exposed, Hudachko said, is “the real benefit of testing.”
More than 550,322 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Utah to date, some of them multiple times, the health department reports.
Six new deaths were reported on Wednesday, including two Davis County men between the ages of 65 and 84 who were both hospitalized at the time of their deaths; a woman in the same age range from Kane County who was also hospitalized when she died with COVID-19; a Salt Lake County woman between 65 and 84, also hospitalized; a San Juan County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was also hospitalized; and a Utah County woman older than 85 who was living in a long-term health care facility at the time of her death.
It brings Utah’s COVID-19-related death toll to 327.
More than 2,519 people have been hospitalized in the state with the highly contagious virus, and 184 COVID-19 patients are currently being treated in hospitals across the state.
Visit coronavirus.utah.gov for more information.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 19,875; 1,295 hospitalized; 185 deaths.
- Utah County, 8,271; 382 hospitalized; 36 deaths.
- Davis County, 3,094; 174 hospitalized; 18 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 3,084; 175 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 2,684; 169 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 2,220; 104 hospitalized; 6 deaths.
- Summit County, 701; 53 hospitalized; 1 death.
- San Juan County, 632; 81 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
- Tooele County, 564; 28 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 538; 20 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Central Utah, 398; 23 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 170; 10 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 97; 5 hospitalized; 0 deaths.