As infections go up, getting tested for COVID-19 is becoming a longer process

Bays set up for appointments for COVID-19 tests at the Intermountain drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on Nov. 15, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — According to the Utah Department of Health, there are now more than 3,500 people right now with the coronavirus in Southern Utah, though health experts are in agreement that the official number is usually half of what the actual number might be. 

A medical worker processes a person about to undergo a COVID-19 test at the Intermountain drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the 400 East Campus of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on Nov. 15, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

With more people having the virus and more people showing symptoms, more people are needing to be tested.

But at this point, Intermountain Healthcare is only able to take appointments at its testing sites in St. George and Cedar City, and it can take two to three days to get an appointment. It then takes another 48 to 72 hours to get a result.

That can be a lot of time when people are waiting to see if they could go back to work, or school. It also creates the possibility of potentially infected people going back to their places of work and education while they await a positive test. 

On top of that, because the state has gone from having hundreds to thousands of positive tests per day, Intermountain and other providers say they are only calling people back if they have a positive test. Those with negative tests need to confirm so through an app or website. 

At this point, no call is good news. 

And there’s almost nothing that leaders locally or on the state level can do about it.

Per the Department of Health and Human Services, and the plan put together earlier in the year by the White House, the federal government is responsible for supplying testing supplies to the states. 

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert seen in an address to all Utahns Sunday evening where he ordered a statewide mask mandate and prohibited social gatherings in households for the next two weeks. Nov. 8, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Utah Governor’s Office, St. George News

And both Gov. Gary Herbert and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn with the Utah Department of Health have made no secret that the federal government has usually been slow to provide those supplies to Utah and most of the states.

“The supplies have been hard to get,” Herbert said last week. “Getting more tests is critical but there is a finite supply from the government.” 

An average of 28,768 people per day statewide have been tested in the last week. That is actually lower than the high point of 49,502 Utahns per day about two weeks ago. That is far from testing everyone in the state, let alone the population of Southern Utah. 

While there were plans to expand testing to include anyone regardless of symptoms, that plan went out the window when the current surge began in late September. 

However, specialists within the Utah Department of Health, including state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, and the governor say the ultimate goal is to test everyone tested at once. The idea being that if everyone is tested, everyone who is infected can be located, traced and isolated reducing exposure for those who are not infected.

Health experts have also said there is no truth that more testing means more people infected with the coronavirus any more than having more maps creates more places to go. Those places were always there, there’s just a better way to find them. 

Two weeks ago, Herbert met with White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx and other members of the administration and was assured of additional testing supplies, including a weekly supply of 250,000 rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. 

In response, Herbert announced a plan on Nov. 8 to begin testing all university students in the state as well as all high school teachers.

A photo illustration of a rapid antigen COVID-19 teat. Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Those tests have not arrived. Herbert is still optimistic about the tests eventually arriving but said the delay in getting the tests means less chance of getting the pandemic under control.

“The end result of this lagging is hospitals are getting overwhelmed,” Herbert said.

The plan is to eventually expand the testing to all students and workplace testing for individuals aged 35, the idea being to test asymptomatic individuals who may not know they have the virus but are spreading it.

But those tests have to arrive from the federal government first, along with other testing supplies to reduce the wait and lag time for people to be tested. 

Herbert was on a conference call with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors Thursday where, according to a White House statement, Pence reassured the governors that more medical supplies were on the way. 

Herbert also had a video call with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris Thursday to discuss what help can come from the federal side once the new administration takes over on Jan. 20.

“The president-elect and I had a good discussion about how states and the federal government can work together in the nationwide fight against COVID-19,” Herbert said late Thursday in a statement. “I wished every success and am grateful for his efforts to engage the nation’s governors in these important discussions.”

Cedar City sets new coronavirus high

According to the Utah Department of Health, there were 333 new infections in Southern Utah Saturday — the second-most since the start of the pandemic.

Cedar City is facing its largest outbreak, setting a one-day high with 69 new infections, according to the Utah Department of Health. Up until two weeks ago, Cedar City had been averaging around 10 new infections per day.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department reported 59 new infections in Iron County on Saturday — a number that may not reflect the total number of new infections in Cedar City.

The deaths locally from the virus continue to skewer lower in age. A death — the 80th in Southern Utah caused by COVID-19 — of a hospitalized Washington County woman 45-69 years old marked the third out of the last four days that someone in the 45-64 age group has lost their life to COVID-19.

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Nov. 21, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 10,370 (243 new infections per day in seven days, falling since Nov. 20)

  • Washington County: 8,059 (189.4 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 1,475 (38 per day, falling)
  • Kane County: 140 (4.3 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 221 (7.3 per day, falling)
  • Beaver County: 142 (4.0 per day, falling)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities:

  • St. George: 145 (falling)
  • Washington City: 39 (falling)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 35 (rising)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 20 (falling)
  • Cedar City: 69 (rising)

Deaths: 80 (2 per day, falling)

  • Washington County: 67 (1 new since last report: hospitalized female 45-64.)
  • Iron County: 4 
  • Garfield County: 6
  • Kane County: 1
  • Beaver County: 2

Hospitalized: 44 (rising)

Active cases: 3,279 (falling)

Recovered: 6,380 

Current Utah seven-day average: 3,229 (falling)

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

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