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Some Utahns are waiting hours in line for a COVID-19 test. Now the state is planning more sites

Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site.
Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site at the Mount Olympus Senior Center in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. People wait approximately two hours to get tested.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

More than an hour after their appointment at noon Tuesday for the COVID-19 tests needed for a long-awaited trip later this week to the United Kingdom, Emily Graff and her four children were still waiting in line behind about 40 other cars at a drive-up clinic in the parking lot of the Mount Olympus Senior Center.

“It’s super frustrating when I feel like we are trying to play by the rules,” said Graff, a business consultant who had rearranged her work schedule and taken her children out of school for the appointment at a testing site near their Holladay home that was scheduled to close at 2 p.m.

People without appointments waited in the same line as those who had scheduled a specific time to be tested, Graff said, adding, “I’m quite shocked at the lack of, I would say organization and personnel,” especially since others, including her 16-year-old son, had been able to get tested quickly over the summer.

In the end, she said it took almost three hours to reach the front of the line.

Catherine Jeppsen, of Sandy, and two of her daughters experienced the same wait at the drive-up clinic — “half of ‘Cruella’ and two-thirds of ‘Beauty and Beast,’” the movies they watched on her phone, she said. Jeppsen had picked up the girls at school and gotten in line for the tests before 11 a.m. after the youngest, age 5, threw up in class.

By the time they reached the front of the line, she was too dehydrated to produce saliva for the test, Jeppsen said, but the results from a nasal swab were negative for COVID-19. “I would take frustrating over one of my kids being sick anytime,” she said.

Catherine Jeppsen helps her daughters as they attempt to collect saliva for COVID-19 testing outside of the Mount Olympus Senior Center in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.
Catherine Jeppsen helps her daughters as they attempt to collect saliva for COVID-19 testing outside of the Mount Olympus Senior Center in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Still, Jeppsen questioned why it took so long.

“It was always faster in the past,” she said, noting her three daughters had all been tested for the virus previously. Now, with school back in session amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Utah and the rest of the country, Jeppsen said testing sites should have been ready for the rush.

“It’s not like we didn’t see this coming, so why aren’t we better prepared with more? There were two people doing all the tests for those cars,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re tired of it and so we don’t want to put more resources towards it. We want it to be over so we’re pretending like it’s over, but it’s frustrating.”

Will Utah officials open more testing sites?

Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said the state is trying to nearly double the number of testing sites it operates, from 16 to 31 over the next month by hiring some 200 health care workers to keep up with what’s expected to be increasing demand.

Hudachko said last week alone, there was a 10%-15% increase in the number of COVID-19 tests, leading to complaints of long lines at some testing sites. Since Friday, 38,555 people in Utah have been tested and 58,564 tests have been conducted for the virus, according to the health department.

“We’re committed to making COVID-19 testing as efficient as possible for all Utah residents. Some testing locations have reported long wait times, while others have reported wait times of only several minutes. We are constantly assessing resources and operations and will implement any changes we can to become more efficient,” he said.

All of the state’s current testing sites, except for the one located at the Utah Public Health Laboratory in West Valley City, are now being run by a contractor, Nomi Health, Hudachko said, so staff can be redeployed to mobile testing units going to schools, long-term care facilities, prisons and other places where outbreaks have occurred.

A spokeswoman for Nomi Health, Jenny Olson, said the Labor Day holiday caused the long waits because testing sites were closed Monday. She said “there is an increase in testing needs across Utah,” and the Orem-based company “is actively adding more staff to accommodate this surge as the week progresses.”

Asked whether Utahns could expect to see long lines after Tuesday, Olson said, “Likely no. All measures are being taken and activated to ensure minimal wait times ASAP. In addition to staffing up, on-site staff are working nonstop, skipping breaks, etc., doing their best work to service everyone.”

Testing for the coronavirus reached a peak last winter, and many mass testing sites switched to offering COVID-19 vaccinations as the shots become available to more Utahns. Now, anyone 12 and older is eligible for the vaccine, but less than half of all Utahns are fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose.

Before the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, state health officials were hopeful testing would be winding down, Hudachko said. But that’s not happening given the rate of vaccinations amid a population that with few exceptions is no longer required to wear masks or take other precautions against COVID-19.

“Certainly by having more people vaccinated, we would be reducing the burden,” he said.

Utah’s latest COVID-19 case counts

Tuesday, the state health department reported 4,657 new COVID-19 cases and 27 additional deaths from the virus in Utah since Friday. Twenty-nine cases were removed from the state’s total count of 474,086 cases through data quality analysis, the department said.

There were 1,871 new cases on Friday, 1,187 on Saturday, 922 on Sunday and 707 on Monday. A total of 1,151 of the new COVID-19 cases were in school-aged children, including 493 who are 5 to 10 years old; 290 who are 11 to 13 years old; and 368 who are 14 to 18 years old.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,382 per day, and the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is now at 9.5% when all results are included and 12.6% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

A total of 3,296,467 doses of virus vaccine have been administered in Utah, an increase of 15,438 doses since Friday.

There are currently 482 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah. The state’s death toll has reached 2,685, with the 27 new deaths reported since Friday. They are:

  • A Cache County woman, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County man, between 25 and 44, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Davis County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Washington County woman, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Box Elder County woman, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County woman, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Uintah County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Weber County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Sevier County woman, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Beaver County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Sanpete County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.