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University of Utah Health

Coronavirus Mailbag: How do you get tested for COVID-19?

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Mar. 24, 2020 at 7:01 p.m.

Editor’s note: These answers are based on interviews and information current as of the time of publication. Please be aware that new information may be discovered by health experts after publication. We’re working to keep this information as up-to-date as possible.

SALT LAKE CITY — COVID-19 cases are beginning to spike in Utah and nationwide. And since we began this mailbag two weeks ago, there has been one fatal case of the novel coronavirus in the state.

As of Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reports there are 298 cases in the state; of those, 285 are of residents of the state and 13 are of non-residents. There are more than 53,000 cases and 700 deaths in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

While health experts have said that those age 60 and older, and people with immune health problems are at highest risk for COVID-19, Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn explained that the latest numbers they’ve analyzed show that adult age ranges don’t seem to factor in the rate of those who contract the coronavirus.

"Those 25 to all the way over 65 all have the same rates of COVID-19, so this is telling us that all adults are susceptible to COVID-19; however, we do know that those over the age of 65 are more likely to be hospitalized," she said, during a press conference on Monday. "It’s really important for ages 25-44, while you might have mild illness and be able to recover on your own at home, it’s very important that you do self-isolate until your symptoms have resolved to protect those who are older or more vulnerable to more severe disease."

We also learned that more testing is coming to Utah. So with those updates, here are some of the questions you’ve asked us about COVID-19 and the answers we’ve found.

How do we get tested in Utah?

This has been the most frequently asked question from the past week, and we now know there's a significant boost in testing availability.

University of Utah Health officials announced Monday morning they have been able to increase the ability to test 1,500 Utahns daily, with the help of ARUP Laboratories. Later in the day, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said in a Twitter video that the number is now more than 2,000 per day. Adding in Intermountain Healthcare and the Utah Public Health Laboratory, Dunn says they are aiming to be able to test 3,000 people per day in Utah by the end of this week.

More importantly, the increase of tests means health officials can start screening all people exhibiting symptoms — fever, cough or shortness of breath — regardless of whether they’ve traveled outside of the state or had contact with someone with a known case of COVID-19, University of Utah Health CEO Dr. Michael Good said on Monday.

There are a few caveats. The largest focus will be on individuals who are experiencing respiratory problems; those who are asymptomatic likely won’t be tested, health officials said. In addition, those with mild "cold-like symptoms" might be turned aside too.

Here's where you can get tested:

University of Utah Health

University of Utah Health has testing and drive-up testing sites at its facilities located in:

  • Farmington: 165 N. University Avenue
  • Salt Lake City (Redwood Health Center): 1525 W. 2100 South
  • Salt Lake City (Sugar House Health Center): 1280 E. Stringham Ave.
  • South Jordan: 5126 W. Daybreak Parkway

Each site is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. One will also be available in Park City by the end of the week thanks to a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, Good said.

So how does that process work? First, people are encouraged to call the coronavirus hotline ahead of time at 801-587-0712 or visit its virtual urgent care website. Those who don’t will wait in line at the drive-up site, said Dr. Richard Orlandi, chief medical officer for ambulatory care for University of Utah Health.

"We will then see the patient in-car and evaluate their symptoms, take some initial vital signs like temperature and oxygen level, and then we’ll be able to determine if the patient needs that testing," he said. "If they do, using these different criteria, we can then perform the test in the car. The whole process is done while the patient is in the car. It preserves our ability to use a smaller amount of personal protective equipment and also minimizes the inconvenience to our patient."

Test results are expected anywhere from 24-48 hours after the test is conducted. Orlandi said University of Utah Health is working with individuals and insurance companies to make sure the cost is low and that testing is "maximally available" for Utahns.

Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare rolled out a symptom checker website last week. Its officials urge people to use that site before determining if they need further screening. Those who feel they need further screening should call 844-442-5224, where they will speak to a health care professional before they should proceed with testing.

Intermountain Healthcare also has several drive-thru locations in the state:

  • Bear River Clinic Family Medicine: 935 N. 1000 West in Tremonton
  • Cedar City InstaCare: 962 S. Sage Drive in Cedar City
  • Cottonwood InstaCare: 181 E. Medical Tower Drive in Murray
  • Layton Clinic: 2075 N. University Park Blvd. in Layton
  • Lehi Clinic InstaCare: 3249 N. 1200 West in Lehi
  • North Cache Valley InstaCare: 4088 N. Highway 91 in Hyde Park
  • North Ogden InstaCare: 2400 N. Washington Blvd. in North Ogden
  • Park City Ice Rink: 600 Gillmor Way in Park City
  • River Road InstaCare: 577 S. River Road in St. George
  • Southridge InstaCare: 3723 W. 12600 South in Riverton
  • Springville InstaCare: 762 W. 400 South in Springville
  • Taylorsville InstaCare: 3845 W. 4700 South in Taylorsville

The list of drive-up testing sites is expected to increase this week. More information can be found here.

Meanwhile, people can call the Utah Department of Health information line at 1-800-456-7707 or visit this website for state testing guidelines.

How many people have been tested?

The number of people tested statewide was 5,823 as of Tuesday afternoon. That’s expected to rise with new tests being made available this week.

One stat that hasn’t changed much in the past week is the percentage of positive results per test — even as more people are getting tested. For example, Dunn said the positive rate was about 5.5% as of March 17; a week later, it has dipped a bit to about 5.1% of all tests. Dunn points out this is much lower than other states like Colorado, which are in the double digits, percentage-wise. Of the positive results, about 1 in 10 patients have been hospitalized, she added.

More testing, health experts believe, might allow for better tracking of the disease in the state.

"Our hope is if we can identify more people who are infected," said Dr. Kim Hanson, section chief for clinical microbiology for ARUP Laboratories, "we can more wisely deploy our home isolation and quarantine measures, as well as do more contact tracing with our colleagues at the health department to identify individuals who may have been exposed but are not yet symptomatic."

Are pregnant women considered "high risk"?

This has been another common question we’ve received. Yes, pregnant women are believed to be in a higher risk category. Dunn pointed out during a press conference last week that pregnant women are considered to be immunocompromised.

"They do need to take extra precautions, in terms of social distancing and making sure they are not around anyone else who is sick," she said.

We have nine kids living at home still. There just isn't space to self-isolate at home in the event one or more of us becomes infected. What advice is there for large families like ours?

This is a good question for Utah, which has the largest average family size in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What should Utah’s larger families do to protect themselves inside when state recommendation is to limit public crowd size to 10 people?

Dunn recommends that if anyone is ill in your family, everyone in the home should remain there until everyone feels better to avoid greater community spread outside of the home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that anyone sick in a household is kept one bedroom and one bathroom, if possible.

Those recommendations can be tricky when the number of people inside one household is so high — unless you live somewhere where every person has their own bathroom. So how should a large family, such as the one asking this question, handle self-isolation protocol should someone get sick?

"It’s going to be dependent on every individual’s situation. Those are recommendations based on best evidence. If they’re unable to do it, then we recommend routine cleaning of all of those high-touch surfaces where the ill person may be," Dunn said. High-touch surfaces include a bathroom, a kitchen or any other common area in a home. "As much as possible, limit the distance between the ill person and other members of the family."

I am a small business owner. Who would I report it to if one of my staff or a client tested positive for COVID-19?

You don’t have to report it to anyone, said Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Jenny Johnson. That’s because the Department of Health will be made aware when a positive test comes back and will conduct "contact tracing," which is evaluating who would be most at risk for contracting COVID-19 from the time the infected person began exhibiting symptoms. That would include talking with employees, friends and family members.

Meanwhile, Johnson said all employers should let their employees stay home if they feel sick. In fact, that’s what the department’s website encourages. They should remain home until they are healthy.

The website states: "When employees are ready to return to work after their illness, typically 72 hours after their symptoms have significantly improved and at least seven days after symptoms began, do not require them to have a doctor’s note. This puts unnecessary stress on the health care system."

More information with tips for Utah businesses can be found online here.

Is it OK to let my kids be with friends outside?

The short answer to this question is yes, but there are still recommendations to consider. While children aren't included in the higher-risk category, the CDC still recommends that parents limit their children's social interactions because that is key to limiting the spread of COVID-19 to people who may be at higher risk.

"If you have play dates, keep the groups small," the agency states on its website. "Encourage older children to hang out in a small group and to meet outside rather than inside. It’s easier to keep and maintain space between others in outdoor settings, like parks."

The CDC also suggests that children are social distancing while in small groups and that children should clean their hands often much like adults have been asked. For more information, the agency has an entire page devoted to COVID-19 child recommendations that can be found on its website.

Does a new study about COVID-19 possibly staying in the air for multiple hours change previous recommendations made for Utahns who may have been in the same arena or mall as someone with COVID-19?

In the interest of transparency, I admit this is actually my question. I wanted to revisit an answer from last week's mailbag because of a new study that came out shortly after the mailbag was posted online raised many eyebrows. The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the novel coronavirus remained on aerosols for upwards of three hours.

We received questions from people concerned that someone who tested positive may have been either at Vivint Arena or City Creek Center at the same time as them. Health experts said last week they didn't recommend any changes. So with this study coming out, does it change that recommendation?

Johnson said the health department hasn't made any changes regarding that particular recommendation. Regarding public places, the department will likely publicly alert if they felt individuals in a mass group are in danger, she explained.

As for new studies, she reminds: "There’s new information about this we’re learning every day." If it's significant enough, reputable sources for guidelines like the World Health Organization, the CDC or the Utah Department of Health will update their information and recommendations. Johnson says people should continue to look at those organizations for the latest guideline information. It's also good to remember with these studies that it may take several studies to confirm any original findings.

If you have questions about the new coronavirus, please submit them to the Google response form below for future installments.

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