SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – On Thursday, Governor, Gary Herbert gave an update on Utah’s COVID-19 response efforts. During the press conference, the Governor invited Nathan Checketts from the Utah Department of Health to do a question and answer session in regards to coronavirus testing in the state.
Many individuals have a myriad of concerns with being tested for the virus. Checketts says one of the main reasons testing for COVID-19 is critical is “if someone gets tested for something like strep throat, doctors can take an action to cure the patient, but with coronavirus, there isn’t a current treatment.” It is important for people to know if they or someone they’ve recently come in contact with is positive so they can take immediate precautions, and to know how far the disease is spreading.
Some of the questions answered:
How many tests can state handle in a day?: Checketts said that back in March up to 800 people were being tested a day, which was the max amount throughout resources across the state.
Currently, the state has the capacity to test about 9000 individuals a day. Labs are continuing to work to improve testing processes and new ways of administering tests for the virus.
Who should be tested?: Individuals who are symptomatic or have any of the following six symptoms including a fever, cough, sore throat, loss of smell or taste, shortness of breath, muscle aches, or pains, should get tested for COVID-19. Additionally, those who may have had close contact with someone who tested positive should be tested for the virus. As results come in around the state, health officials can help those who tested positive identify people they have had close contact with so they can be notified of the risk of being contracted with the virus.
What kind of tests are used to determine who has coronavirus?: The polymerase chain reaction (PCR test) is a method widely used to rapidly make millions of copies of a specific DNA sample, allowing scientists to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail. The sample is sent to a lab, typically known as the most accurate for determining results.
Another type of test that can diagnose the current infection is the antigen test. This specific test looks at the proteins on the virus. One advantage of the antigen test is its rapid results. An individual can have their test results within 15 minutes. An antigen test is good at finding if someone is positive. However, one of its flaws is that the test isn’t as accurate when it determines that someone is negative. In this case, a healthcare provider may look at certain factors that may result in positive cases, and recommend the PCR test for 100% accuracy.
There is also the antibody test, which tells whether a person may have been exposed to the virus and what the body has done in response to produce those antibodies. However, if a person is currently positive officials still don’t know how long the immunity that comes from the antibodies is going to last. Doctors find the antibody results helpful to know what immunities have been exposed over time, what population has been exposed over time, and to what extent the infection has been penetrated into the communities.
Antibodies can better detect if the exposure was broader than what was seen through PCR test.
Other concerns are the test collection methods, most of which include collecting samples through the nose and far back to a person’s throat. A saliva collection method is currently on the horizon.
For those wanting to get tested for the virus, Checketts suggests contacting their health provider or visiting coronavirus.utah.gov.
In regards to testing assistance, there are several ways to have a COVID-19 test done at no cost, typically through a healthcare provider, Medicaid, or contacting the Utah COVID-19 hotline.