Coronavirus testing without symptoms can produce false results, president declares disaster in Utah

A motorist comes up to an Intermountain Healthcare drive-through coronavirus testing site in an undisclosed location, date not specified | Photo courtesy Intermountain Medical, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As the amount of tests available and the access to testing increases for the COVID-19 coronavirus, there is a growing demand for the tests to be administered to those who are not showing the symptoms of the virus. 

The drive-through coronavirus testing set up at the River Road InstaCare in St. George, Utah, on April 2, 2020. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

This comes because of growing evidence that those who have the virus but not the symptoms can spread the virus. 

However, Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said expanding more testing toward asymptomatic patients could have its own pitfalls.

We can’t trust the test if you don’t have symptoms,” Dunn said. “There are a lot of false negatives among those asymptomatic.”

As of Saturday, 28,043 tests for COVID-19 have been conducted in the state according to the Utah Department of Health, with 1,428 testing positive. 

According to the Covid Tracking Project, which analyzes test rates throughout the country, Utah is fifth in the nation as far as the amount of people tested compared with the state’s population.

The state reported on Saturday the eighth death from the virus in Utah – a woman in her 80s at a nursing home in Salt Lake County. 

Also Saturday, the White House announced President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in Utah, freeing up more federal funds to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.    

The drive-through coronavirus testing set up at the River Road InstaCare in St. George, Utah, on April 2, 2020. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Specific test numbers are not available for Southern Utah. However, Intermountain Medical reports its drive-through testing at the River Road InstaCare in St. George is conducting 120-140 tests per day, while 40-80 tests per day have been provided at the Cedar City InstaCare.  

While tests are provided free of charge to people who arrive at the drive-through regardless of their insurance status, people are still being turned away when they don’t exhibit symptoms. 

Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director of Dixie Regional Medical Center, said testing for those without symptoms is coming but will be done carefully. 

“There’s a very good chance we’ll be testing asymptomatic, but we need to look at why we would do that and the risk versus the benefit,” Carroll said. 

Some reports have said that around 30% of the time, a test of a patient who is asymptomatic can produce a false negative. 

Carroll describes it this way: The window of exposure is about 14 days. Most patients test positive five to six days after exposure. If someone tests negative but was exposed two days ago, they may test positive three days later. 

Thus, someone can test negative despite the virus being in their system, running the risk that they can still transmit the virus to others and still get sick themselves despite a false sense of security. 

“That negative test may change their behavior,” Carroll said.  

Co-Diagnostics lab analyst Madison Stark works with samples as the company produces COVID-19 testing kits in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. | Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/The Deseret News via Associated Press, St. George News

Testing is currently prioritized for those exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19, which include a high fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing. And while medical experts say that people are most contagious when they have symptoms, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recent days have expressed concern that those without symptoms are still passing the virus. 

As of right now, there are still no local labs able to determine test results. Carroll said most tests are going up to a central location in Salt Lake City to be analyzed, and turnaround time is based on the severity of symptoms. It can range from 24 hours for those with severe cases to three days for those with less severe symptom. 

Turnaround can be even longer with national labs like Quest and LabCorp, which may ship tests out of state.

Carroll said progress is being made in St. George to have a local lab run tests, but even when that is up and running it will be limited in scope. 

We anticipate a limited amount of localized tests in the near future,” Carroll said. “For now it will start out small.”

Latest Southern Utah numbers

Saturday marks the third consecutive day there were three new positive tests for the COVID-19 virus in Southern Utah. 

Undated photo illustration at unknown location of a doctor with a sick patient. | Photo by Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

However, there were actually fewer total coronavirus cases in the area Saturday than Friday.

The reason is as of Friday, the Utah Department of Health is no longer including positive tests of those who are visiting from out of state. Instead, they will be counted for their home states.

Thus, the Southern Utah total now stands at 36 residents who have had the virus compared to the 40 reported on Friday, according to the Southwest Utah Public Department of Health. 

Saturday’s reported cases included two in Iron County and one in Washington County. The number of those hospitalized remains at three.

The health department does not release the exact cities the residents live in.  

President declares disaster in Utah

President Trump on Saturday granted a request made by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday to declare that a major disaster has taken place in Utah.

The move makes federal funding available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will administer the distribution of funds. 

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count

Positive COVID-19 tests: 36, including 1 death and 11 recoveries.

  • Washington County: 22
  • Iron County: 12
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Kane County: 1
  • Beaver County: 0

Hospitalized: 3

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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