SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – As Utah health officials work to expand access to testing for COVID-19 statewide, including in rural areas such as Southern Utah, medical experts say that testing for those who are asymptomatic is likely coming, but will need to be done very carefully.

The Utah Department of Health says that expanding testing to the entire public is tricky: officials can’t necessarily trust the COVID-19 test if patients are asymptomatic due to many false negatives.

“But something we’re really clear on is, right now with our testing capacity and with what we understand about the test, we recommend only those with symptoms get tested,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. “So, that’s where we are as a state. We expect that any Utahn who goes to any site to get tested that that criteria will be followed.”

Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, described concerns with asymptomatic testing this way: the window of exposure is about two weeks, and most patients test positive within five to six days of exposure. If an individual tests negative but was exposed three days ago, they may test positive two days later — and that negative test may change their social distancing and hygiene behaviors.

“For some people, not knowing may help them continue practicing social distancing, so it’s a challenge and it’s not an easy answer,” Carroll said. “If so, how frequently do we test? Do we test every 7 days, every 14 days? Do we do it once and then we’re done?”

Currently, testing is being prioritized for patients with a high fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. The Utah Department of Health says it’s working with healthcare systems to expand testing in remote areas, such as Southern Utah, including mobile options as well as temporary set-ups in hospitals.

Utah health officials say that currently the state has the lab capacity to test about 5,000 people every day. On Monday, the Utah Department of Health officials mentioned they’re seeing a shortage of swabs to supply the tests and are waiting to receive additional orders of swaps and viral media to continue their full testing capacity.

“Right now, we’re seeing a shortage in the swabs that are required to actually conduct the test,” Dunn said. “So, it feels like we solved the testing capacity, and now we have to look at the supply capacity.”