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COVID-19 testing centers extremely busy; some people wait hours in line

An Intermountain Healthcare testing center in Taylorsville. Credit: Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio

SALT LAKE COUNTY — As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Utah, testing centers are feeling serious strain.  In some cases, people wait up to two hours to be tested.

On Monday, officials with the Utah Department of Health reported an additional 517 confirmed cases, with six new deaths.  Over the past two weeks, health care workers have tested over 76,000 people across the state. 

Related: Track Utah’s Coronavirus numbers for yourself

Given the rapid growth in positive cases, Dr. Anthony Wallin with Intermountain Healthcare says the rise in demand for testing isn’t a surprise.

“If there is one positive person, you might have ten to 20 people that are true ‘close contacts’ that may be tested,” Wallin said.

Utah COVID-19 testing centers face high demand

Wallin estimates demand at their COVID-19 testing centers in Utah has gone up at least 50 percent in the past four weeks.  The lines seem to be longest on Mondays and Fridays, especially in the earlier morning and later afternoon hours.  A wait of one to two hours isn’t unexpected during those times of the day. 

Wallin says they’re working on better signage that would make instructions more clear for people wanting a test since there may be some confusion on what people should do once they arrive.

Would an appointment system speed things up?  Not necessarily.  Wallin says there are many people who don’t want to wait for the exam if they feel sick. 

“We get nervous about someone delaying when they need to be seen,” he said.

Appointment systems as a next step? 

Nevertheless, both Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health are looking into creating appointment systems that could take some of the pressure off testing centers.  These appointments could be set for people preparing for surgeries and they can be scheduled several days before the procedure.  However, University of Utah Community Clinics Administrative Director Michael Bronson says there will patients who can’t wait for an appointment.

“Demand is exceeding the capacity.  Even if you have an appointment system, we’re still going to be having people show up without an appointment,” Bronson said.

The procedure itself only lasts three to four minutes, according to Bronson, but there are so many people asking for COVID-19 tests, lines can last between one and two hours at the University of Utah testing centers.  Just four weeks ago, they were examining 600-700 people every day.  Now, Bronson says they’re seeing 1,500-1,600.

“Our demand has doubled, essentially, in the last three to four weeks, or so,” Bronson said. 

In order to qualify for a test, Bronson says patients need to experience symptoms, or obtain a referral from either the state or a University of Utah physician.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States