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State audit says Utahns are not getting their COVID-19 test results fast enough

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 08: A healthcare worker test a patient at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at the Duke Energy for the Arts Mahaffey Theater on July 8, 2020 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Many Utahns have complained about waiting days to get their COVID-19 test results. The OLAG-audit-of-COVID-19-test-times from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General says they were not alone. 

One reason for the confusion is people are being told conflicting things about when to expect their test results.

“We also found inconsistencies in messaging surrounding test turnaround times, with
one state official saying it should be 24 hours, while a health expert said it was expected to
be less than 72 hours,” the report said. 

The audit found the average time between when a test is processed and the results sent to a provider is 1.6 days. 

However, it takes some labs over three days to process a test. 

Another reason for those delays is that labs have been swamped with tests in recent weeks. 

But Senior Audit Supervisor Jesse Martinson says while testing capabilities are improving, once those results come back, providers have not been sharing them quickly with people, if at all. 

“They try to get in contact with the patient within 24 hours [of a positive test result]. However, they don’t contact people who have a negative result at all,” Martinson said. 

State Senate President Stuart Adams, who had COVID-19, says the delay in giving people results is too difficult for many families. 

“If you’re asking them to stay home for a week, it’s actually an economic or social hardship for them. For those 5-10% who are positive, if they’re out spreading the virus we will never get on top of this,” Adams said. 

The audit made five recommendations to speed up Utah’s COVID-19 testing and reporting:   

1. We recommend the Governor’s Office, in collaboration with the Department of
Health, formally establish a goal for both COVID-19 test processing times and
complete turnaround times.
2. We recommend the Department of Health officially convene a commission to
determine the feasibility of collecting and publishing complete turnaround times,
time from swab to patient notification of COVID-19 test results.
3. We recommend the Department of Health study the feasibility of publicly
posting test processing times by lab and geographic location on the website.
4. We recommend the Department of Health work with labs and providers to share
best practices that could result in greater efficiencies to reduce test turnaround
5. We recommend the Department of Health review the feasibility of creating a
system to shift test samples from backlogged labs to labs with greater capacity.

State leaders and the Department of Health say they agree with all of the recommendations in the audit. 


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