SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is in the midst of a drop in COVID-19 cases.
But also puzzling to health care providers and state leaders is why we are also seeing a drop in the number of people seeking tests.
"We’ve been talking to everyone we can, figuring out what is up with testing," Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, the head of Utah's COVID-19 Task Force, told FOX 13 as he left a tour of the state's public health lab on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Utah's Department of Health reported 378 new cases of COVID-19 and seven new fatalities. There were 4,774 reported. The rolling average of COVID-19 positive cases is now at 428 per day. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 9.8%.
The percent positives concern health care providers because it means more of those who are going in for tests are coming back with COVID-19. But overall, it could be a signal that Utah is turning a corner and seeing real declines of novel coronavirus in the state.
"There is real optimism amongst epidemiologists, the testing people, the professionals that we really have turned a corner. That the mask wearing, which we’ve seen a significant increase in mask wearing, people social distancing that we have come off our peaks and we’re heading on the down trend. And we want to keep that rolling," Lt. Gov. Cox said.
Statewide, both University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare reported to FOX 13 they have seen declines in the numbers of people seeking testing.
"Our numbers show we’re down about 15-20% depending on the area in testing in the last three weeks," said Dr. Anthony Wallin, who oversees the mobile COVID testing sites for Intermountain Healthcare.
Michael Bronson, the administrator of the COVID test sites for University of Utah Health said in mid-July it was not uncommon to have 80 cars in line when they opened at 7 a.m. That's dropped dramatically in the last couple of weeks.
"We have seen a decline in the demand at our testing sites. We have kept our capacity normal or at its previous state," he said.
Both health care companies said they have not changed the criteria for testing and urged anyone with symptoms to seek out a COVID-19 test. Hours have shifted slightly to provide more availability early in the morning and in the evening.
Dr. Wallin said it could be people have been vacationing.
"I don’t know if we see this much of a decline this acutely, but that could be because we didn’t travel earlier in the summer season," he said. "Another reason is that people is people are fatigued, they may have test fatigue and especially if they have mild symptoms, they might be saying it’s not worth it to go in. that might be the case as well, time will tell on that."
Bronson said it could also be a sign that mask mandates are working.
"We have noticed in our data that there is a strong correlation. Correlation does not equal causation, but there is a strong correlation between the mask mandate that went into effect in Salt Lake County and just the general increase in compliance with masking," he said.
Lt. Gov. Cox said the state has begun conducting small statewide surveys to determine mask adoption and found roughly 80% of those sampled have said they do wear masks when out in public. Only 3% surveyed refused to wear a mask at all, he said.
The state lab has cleared a backlog of tests and anticipates a 24-hour turnaround with results, Lt. Gov. Cox said. They are preparing for a possible surge in coronavirus cases as school starts and more people re-enter the workforce in the coming weeks.
He urged people to continue to be physically distant from others, exercise good hygiene and wear face coverings in public.
"Especially as we go back to school, we need to keep those case counts low," he said.
To find out if you need a COVID-19 test call University of Utah Health at 844-745-9325 or Intermountain Healthcare at 844-442-5224.