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University of Utah offering weekly COVID-19 tests to families of students and employees

University of Utah freshman Daniel Wray swabs his nostril as he takes a rapid COVID-19 test at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2020.
University of Utah freshman Daniel Wray swabs his nostril as he takes a rapid COVID-19 test at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The U. is offering free, weekly asymptomatic testing to immediate family and household members of university staff, students and faculty.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The University of Utah is offering free, weekly asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to immediate family and household members of university staff, students and faculty.

“We’re starting to see more breakthrough cases, often in asymptomatic individuals who are fully immunized but still positive. Testing remains an effective way to limit spread to the elderly, the immunocompromised and unvaccinated children,” Cameron Wright, program manager for campus COVID-19 testing, said in a statement.

The university employs 39,300 people, according to a 2020 report by the U.’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, “Economic Contribution of the University of Utah.”

University spokesman Christopher Nelson said fall enrollment could exceed 34,000 students. Official numbers are customarily reported in October.

Starting in January, the Office of the Vice President for Research partnered with the University of Utah Health Operations and Core facilities to develop rapid asymptomatic testing for the campus community.

U. facilities take samples and tests are processed on site. According to university officials, the U. is the only public university in the state that is offering the highly accurate tests for free.

Keeping all the steps in-house means results come back quickly.

John Phillips, associate dean of research and infrastructure for the School of Medicine and director of facilities where the samples are processed, said test samples collected before noon are generally available that same afternoon.

“The tests average at well under a 24-hour turnaround. It doesn’t get any quicker than that,” said Phillips.

Andrew Weyrich, the U.’s vice president for research, urged members of the university community and their households to get tested regularly.

“Catching COVID-19 early through asymptomatic testing is critical in slowing the spread within our communities, especially while we’re seeing an uptick in cases throughout the country,” Weyrich said.

For more information, or to schedule an asymptomatic coronavirus test, click here.

Meanwhile, the university is continuing to encourage vaccination. It was among the first public universities to require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September or complete exemption forms.

If vaccination records are not received by Sept. 30, a hold can be placed on a student’s account that will prevent them from registering for the spring 2022 semester. The hold can be removed once a student gets vaccinated or completes an exemption form.

Nelson said numbers of vaccinated students are increasing, with about 70% fully vaccinated and another 6% that have received one dose of a two-dose series.

More than 80% of benefitted faculty and staff are vaccinated, a university spokeswoman said earlier this month.