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COVID-19 initiative TestUtah gets tweaked

COVID testing
Posted at 5:20 PM, Aug 07, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — TestUtah.com, which was launched as an effort by Silicon Slopes companies to help battle COVID-19 and then became the subject of controversy surrounding no-bid contracts, has been tweaked and is under different oversight.

Utah's Department of Health now has oversight of it and has signed new vendor contracts for lab and sample collection work. Those contracts, which were provided to FOX 13, were awarded through a public bid process, the agency said.

A health department spokesman told FOX 13 the agency was negotiating with Nomi Health (which ran the original TestUtah) and Fulgent Therapeutics to run TestUtah going forward. Other vendors awarded contracts include ARUP, Premier Medical, NICUSA and LabCorp. The contracts, which could potentially total millions of dollars depending on how many tests and samples they process, expire in 2025 unless services are no longer deemed necessary.

TestUtah started as a symptom assessment website that partnered with hospitals in Utah County to get people tested for COVID-19. It was backed by Silicon Slopes Commons, whose CEO declared "no tech company is going to make any money off of this."

But it was later found that some tech companies involved had already entered into no-bid contracts with the state for millions of dollars. FOX 13 reported extensively on the state's utilization of "emergency procurement" powers to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars without a public bid process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Gary Herbert defended the spending as necessary during the initial emergency of the pandemic.

But under questions about TestUtah.com and its effectiveness, and emergency procurement powers, Gov. Herbert scaled back the no-bid contracts. House Democrats have threatened legislation to reign in emergency procurement powers and it is also being scrutinized by Utah State Auditor John Dougall.

"This is a step in the right direction, definitely," said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, who told FOX 13 she is running legislation that seeks to provide more transparency in emergency procurement spending.

Rep. Harrison said she was glad to see the Utah Department of Health overseeing TestUtah's contracts and not the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.

"We want to make sure we have open bid processes and make sure that we're transparent and accountable with taxpayer dollars and make sure health experts are overseeing these contracts and helping determine which vendors are getting these contracts," she said.