State officials urge symptomatic people to seek COVID-19 test, as Park City site has ‘plenty of capacity’
The state epidemiologist Monday implored Utahns to seek testing for COVID-19 if they have symptoms of the disease, stressing that the state has unused capacity after ramping up testing infrastructure and calling the data gleaned from testing essential to an effective response to the pandemic.
“Testing is a cornerstone for any infectious disease response, but especially this one,” said Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist.
On the Wasatch Back, the Park City Ice Arena testing site has “plenty of capacity,” according to an Intermountain Healthcare spokesperson, who said calling the Intermountain hotline first might save some time for people seeking a test. The hotline can be reached at 844-442-5224.
Symptoms of the disease that warrant testing include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains, decreased sense of taste and smell, a sore throat or diarrhea, according to Dunn and Intermountain Healthcare.
Officials have said increased testing is key to the possibility of curtailing burdensome public health recommendations sooner, like Summit County’s stay-at-home order.
Dunn said Monday increased testing might enable social distancing recommendations and other interventions to be used in a “more targeted capacity.”
While Utah remains one of the handful of states that does not have a statewide stay-at-home order in place, Gov. Gary Herbert has issued a “stay home, stay safe” recommendation.
The conversation about increased testing comes weeks ahead of an expected surge in cases statewide.
As of Tuesday, there were 2,412 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah, resulting in 213 hospitalizations and 19 deaths. So far, no one has died in Summit County, though there have been 306 confirmed cases and 28 hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, Intermountain Healthcare Chief Operating Officer Rob Allen said the hospital system is preparing ahead of an expected surge in a matter of weeks.
Both Park City Hospital and Heber Valley Hospital are Intermountain facilities. Allen announced that plans for the potential surge include provisions to transfer patients with COVID-19 from smaller, “community” hospitals like the two local facilities to larger hospitals in the health care network.
Other provisions include treating patients up to 30 years old at a pediatric facility and using a specialty facility to treat non-COVID-19 patients to free up capacity at other hospitals.
“I can tell you we are ready,” Allen said of the prospective surge. “We have good capacity today.”
Allen declined to offer many specifics, like the number of available ventilators Intermountain, and did not offer a more specific prediction for the timing of the surge beyond that it is “a number of weeks out.”
He said the models are continually pushing the peak date in Utah further into the future as social distancing measures flatten the curve of new cases, but that the models still include a steep rise in anticipated cases.
“One thing that we know is that every model is wrong,” Allen said of the projected peak dates.
The testing Dunn advocates is known as a PCR test and uses a sample taken with a nasal swab to ascertain the presence of the virus itself. Meanwhile, a different sort of test is proceeding from national labs including Salt Lake City-based ARUP Laboratories.
That test looks for antibodies that would indicate whether a person’s immune system has already responded to COVID-19. It is unclear, officials have said, whether the presence of antibodies would indicate immunity to the disease, or specifics like how long immunity might last.
Summit County Health Department officials have supported the push for more testing, though in an April 8 news release made clear that the best use for Summit County for the time being is the PCR test that shows whether a person currently has the disease.
The antibody test might be useful for determining whether a health care worker has been exposed to the disease and therefore can safely return to work and avoid being quarantined, the release stated. But the bulk of time, money and effort should be put into testing for COVID-19 itself.
“It is the opinion of the Summit County Health Officer, and public health experts in general, that antibody testing is not an appropriate use of resource at this time and should not be a focus of the current effort to control the spread of COVID-19,” the email states.
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