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SLCo closes mass testing site as Utah drops COVID emergency alert level

Posted at 2:22 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 19:42:54-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — In more signs that Utah is starting to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is dropping its level of emergency alert and the most populous county is closing its last mass testing site.

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In a parking lot near the Maverik Center, Salt Lake County Health workers are starting to tear down tents where they used to administer up to 1,200 COVID-19 tests each day.

"Now we’re testing approximately 85 per day, which is about 10% or less than what we were in the beginning so the demand has definitely gone down," said Rachel Black, the Salt Lake County Health Department's COVID-19 test site coordinator.

This site is the last mass testing facility the county maintains. As of May 28, it will be closed.

"They consolidated one by one until now we’re here," Black said. "And this one is slow enough, it’s the end here."

She views it as a positive sign in the state's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. At the nearby Maverik Center, the parking lot has been converted into a drive-thru vaccination site. In fact, this weekend Salt Lake County will offer people who get vaccinated free tickets to the Utah Grizzlies game inside the Maverik Center as a reward for getting a shot.

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The closure of the testing site does not mean people won't be able to get tested. Black said there are still rapid tests available at clinics, and the county will focus on mobile testing at job sites. The Utah Department of Health said Friday it plans to continue operations for its mass testing locations, including the Utah State Fairgrounds.

But the closure allows health orders to shift more resources to vaccination and get back to work they put off during the pandemic response. That's also happening on a statewide level. The COVID-19 Unified Command, established last year in the early days of the pandemic, is disbanding.

As of last week, the state has dropped from a "Level One" emergency (basically meaning all agencies participate in the response effort) to a "Level Three."

"Level three means that we’re still monitoring," said Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the command.

At one point, the state had two simultaneous Level One emergencies when the Wasatch Front experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in the pandemic.

The unified command was set up under the governor's office and run jointly by Utah's Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health. Now, the health department will be in charge, with support from other agencies, as the effort shifts more to vaccination. Televised news conferences with the governor, state epidemiologist and other officials have gone from daily in the early days of the pandemic to weekly. At the end of this month, they will become even more spread out.

"There are just a lot of things that are still going on in state government, and it’s time to start letting some of those agencies go back to doing all the other things that they do under state law," Dougherty said.