SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s testing shortage has the Governor and other state leaders telling you don’t test for COVID-19 and stay home , even if you have symptoms.
“We don’t do this type of testing with really any other diseases, right? Yeah, we get sick. We stay home hopefully and hopefully we’ll do more of that,” said Gov. Cox. “By the time people are getting tested, they’ve already infected a whole bunch of people who have already infected a whole bunch of people. And our ability to contact trace with numbers like this is just virtually impossible. That changes the value of testing.”
Staffing and testing crunch
Alongside the state’s epidemiologist, the state superintendent, and other state officials on Friday, the Governor said the testing crunch really started with not having enough personnel to do the tests. And then it turned into having enough tests.
“So not only do we have a personnel shortage, but there is a testing shortage, that the normal supply of tests that we had already ordered, did not come to us,” said the Governor. “And so that became another constraint. And that is what has led directly to the long lines.”
“We are hopeful that our backorders of tests will be coming in, and that over the next week or two we’ll be getting hundreds of thousands of tests and so our fingers are certainly crossed,” said Gov. Cox.
In the meantime, until those tests come, we have to look at things differently.”
Utah’s biggest issue with testing started with having enough staff to do it. But now with the testing shortage, the state is pausing the school “Test to Stay” program, to make sure it has enough tests while the omicron variant is spiking cases across the state.
Don’t get a test, stay home if you’re sick
Just like the CDC recently changed its quarantine and isolation guidelines, the state is now changing its guidelines on whether or not you should test if you’re feeling sick.
“We’re recommending people who have symptoms, they really should stay home act as if they have COVID and not necessarily need to go get testing,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen.
“The benefit of getting that test is really decreased. What is more important is keeping you away from other people so you don’t transmit it.”
Average daily case counts since Christmas Day have been going up. They were sitting around 1,200 per day, to now record-shattering numbers in the tens of thousands. The positive rate has also dramatically increased as well, going from about 13.2% to 36.5%.
And if case counts make you roll your eyes, the hospitalizations are nothing to ignore. The state reported 434 people hospitalized on Christmas Day. As of Jan. 14 that number sat at 672.
Also not to be ignored: the daily testing numbers. The state’s COVID-19 dashboard reports an increase in daily tests from around 19,000 to nearly 48,000.
“We have limited testing capacity. We have stretched so far, we’ve done everything we can to increase what we can do to test,” said Dr. Nolen. “And still there are more people that need to be tested. We know there are huge lines, and so what we want to do is use our testing capacity to maximize what we need to do.
“There are certain groups of people who are — it’s more valuable to test than the general population.”
Aside from “don’t test stay home,” some should get a test if not feeling well
Just because the state is saying you shouldn’t get a test if you’re feeling sick, that doesn’t mean that some people should get them.
“Those are people who have significant underlying conditions,” said Dr. Nolen.
This means anyone who is elderly, has certain medical conditions like diabetes or heart conditions, and more. You can find the CDC’s full list of underlying conditions here.
“We recommend people who are working with vulnerable populations still go get tested,” Dr. Nolen said. “People who work with vulnerable populations, who work in health care, who work in long-term care facilities… we still encourage them strongly to go get testing.”
And if you have a family member being treated for cancer with chemotherapy, Dr. Nolen said she recommends that you test so you don’t accidentally give them COVID.
The second change state officials are making is pausing the “Test to Stay” program at Utah’s schools.
Test to Stay isn’t working
On Thursday, the state’s top leaders sent an email to every school in Utah telling them to pause the “Test to Stay” program.
“We believe by giving students and staff the chance to pause and reset, we can slow the transmission and will be able to get our students back in their classrooms,” said State Superintendent Dr. Syd Dickson.
“Another school district reported significant student and staff absenteeism due to a spike to the point where they only had a quarter of their students in attendance.”
The superintendent said one school district reported one of every six of its employees missing because of sickness.
“We ended up with classes in gymnasiums, teachers combining two or three classes together,” said Dickson. “It was not only putting stress on the system but not creating conditions of optimal learning.”
Schools that qualify can move to remote learning either next week or the week after.
Dr. Nolen says this approach will be better than Test to Stay, because, she said, the program wasn’t working anyway.
“In Davis, we had schools yesterday test with 250 kids turn out positive, that means we’re doing it too late,” the epidemiologist said. “And so test to stay really isn’t doing what we need it to do. We wanted it to stop the spread, it’s behind, it’s not able to stop the spread. So for that reason, for the next few days, we’re putting a pause on the test to stay, the legislature will be looking at what to do, starting next week about what to do going forward.”
How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus (updated Jan. 2022)
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreads from person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:
- Get vaccinated. If you are vaccinated, get your booster shot.
- Wear a mask. Here are the current CDC recommendations (as of Jan. 12, 2022):
- People aged 2 years and older who are not vaccinated should wear a face covering when indoors.
- When outdoors, masks are generally not needed unless you are in a crowded setting.
- Even if they are vaccinated, people with weakened immune systems may still be at risk and should wear a mask indoors.
- Masks should be worn indoors in public in high transmission areas.
- Masks that cover your nose and mouth are required to be worn on planes, busses, trains, and other public transportation when traveling into, within, or out of the United States.
- Stay six feet away from others (social distancing) especially if you are at high risk.
- Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
- Testing. There are several types of tests for you to use if you suspect you are sick. These include viral and antibody tests, conducted by others or by you in your home (self-tests).
- If you test positive, you should isolate. The CDC now recommends a five-day isolation period, followed by five days of mask-wearing when around others.
Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707