Summit County’s emergency manager outlines testing strategy, including expanded contact tracing and targeted testing of hot spots |

Summit County’s emergency manager outlines testing strategy, including expanded contact tracing and targeted testing of hot spots

Residents seek COVID-19 tests in April at a mobile testing site set up at the Ecker Hill park-and-ride lot.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Officials expected the number of cases of COVID-19 to grow after the economy began to reopen and visitors started to return to the area, but Summit County health personnel say they are not seeing a significant surge and that they have confidence that the level of local testing is providing the data they need to fight the disease.

Chris Crowley, Summit County public health emergency preparedness coordinator, outlined the county’s testing strategy in recent conversations with The Park Record, saying the small size of the county Health Department makes targeting resources crucial, and stressing the importance of community partnerships like those with local health care providers Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health.

“Sending resources all over the county doesn’t really help us,” Crowley said, discussing the idea of testing a random sampling of county residents to show a baseline of the disease’s prevalence in the community. “Because we have limited staff, limited testing, limited everything, we want to make sure we’re targeting areas that are most dire.”

To establish that baseline, the county is relying on data from testing sites run by local health care providers, including the one at the Park City Hospital, which requires people to have symptoms of the disease to be tested. That site is testing enough people to maintain a statistically significant sampling, Crowley said, of at least 300 tests in a rolling 21-day window.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, the county then begins an aggressive contact tracing program with help from public and private partners. In the early days of the pandemic, when Summit County was the epicenter of COVID-19 in the state, the contact tracing program was largely taken over by the Utah Department of Health, nursing director Carolyn Rose said. Now, the county’s nursing staff, a team of four, will often do an initial interview with a patient and pass tracing cases on to a state-run program to maintain contact with the person for two weeks.

When case interviews turn up a suspected hot spot, like a shared place of employment or a common location like a party that multiple people visited, Crowley said the county has a community response team that can extensively test people who also may have been exposed.

“It is by no means SWAT and people driving up and kicking down your door, putting a swab up your nose,” he said. “We’re … actively going out, testing people at their house or at their place of employment, wherever they need us to go to test them, and finding out who their contacts are, so we can get a large amount of really good data as quickly and simply as possible.”

Crowley also pushed back on the notion that someone who lives at a multi-unit apartment complex is more likely to catch COVID-19 than a person at any other place a family would congregate.

“If you have five people in your home, whether it’s in an apartment or a 10,000-square-foot home in Deer Valley, there’s still the opportunity to contract that disease among the family members,” he said.

The other elements of the county’s testing strategy involve closely monitoring and testing front-line workers, like firefighters and health care professionals. While the county doesn’t have the resources to regularly test asymptomatic first responders, those who have symptoms are tested, as are the people they’ve come into contact with.

A contact is defined as anyone who has been within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for more than 10 minutes in the previous seven days.

Crowley said the county is aiming to have another community testing event later this year like the mobile testing campaign in April that tested more than 3,400 county residents regardless of whether they had symptoms of COVID-19. That data helped fill in the county’s pandemic response plans, Crowley said, as well as identify hot spots and paint a clearer picture of the disease’s spread through the community.

He added that the county’s stockpile of personal protective equipment is in good shape, largely as a result of having federally verified pandemic and strategic national stockpile plans in place years before the pandemic hit.

“We’re in very, very good shape. … We had our local stockpile already. No. 1, didn’t have to dip too much into it, and No. 2, (we received) regular shipments from the state,” he said of the personal protective equipment. “It’s one of those things where we wrote this plan hoping we wouldn’t have to use it, and here we are.”

Crowley, like Rose, stressed the importance of wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and frequent handwashing.

“I would strongly advise against not wearing a mask. It just seems ridiculous to me that anybody would not wear a mask in a congregate setting,” Crowley said. “Wearing masks makes a difference. It’s important. You may not think that it’s important, but it may be important to that next person. It’s really a good neighbor policy, I think.”

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