COVID-19 Response & Protecting Public Health

Trent Staggs: We Need Universal & Repeat Testing to Stop COVID Spike, We Aren’t “Out of Options”


We need a better plan to decrease coronavirus case counts. Each day we see new headlines that COVID-19 cases are up. This is now after seven months of the coronavirus pandemic and it seems that we still do not have a viable plan to contain it’s spread.


Increased mask wearing is critical, yet it is not a silver bullet. In Salt Lake County we have already achieved 90% – 96% compliance with mask wearing. Despite this, case counts and hospital bed use is rising. With spiking case counts in Salt Lake County we are faced with the question: “where do we go from here?”


Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson recently said that we are “out of options” except for a shutdown in our ability to decrease COVID-19 case counts in Salt Lake County. I do not believe this is the case and think that there is much more that we can and should be doing to save lives and slow the spread of coronavirus.


First and foremost, we need universal and repeat testing for every resident. Other countries, such as South Korea, who have case counts much lower than ours, have proven that this is the most effective way to find those who are spreading the virus and prevent them from doing so. This approach is effective because we are able to quickly find and isolate exactly where coronavirus is in our community. When one is found positive, they quarantine and no longer interact with the public where they could spread the virus. This allows us to actively take live COVID-19 pathogens out of our community everyday. This is not something we are currently doing.


Ask yourself, which is more effective? A person carrying COVID-19 who wears a mask yet continues to go in public because they are unaware that they are positive, or; a person who has COVID-19, knows they are positive because they have been tested, and quarantines from interacting with the public at all.


Not only is this the most effective way to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is also the least detrimental to society at large. Rather than shutdowns, we can find those who are positive, give peace of mind to those who are negative with opportunities to continually get tested, and children can still go to school and parents can continue to work. Unfortunately, this county administration has proven inept at testing, abandoning mobile testing within days of it being tried and also making personally identifiable information public on a county website for days in violation of HIPAA. And perhaps worst of all, still sitting on nearly $100 million dollars of CARES ACT funding it received over 6 months ago that could have been used in this effort to safeguard our residents, provide for testing, and lead in economic recovery.


We have the technology that would allow residents to sign up online or via their phone, be directed to one of potentially hundreds of locations, and find out almost immediately if they are infected. This would cut back on lost days of work and school, alleviate anxiety, protect our most vulnerable, and save lives.


Providing universal and repeat testing has been my position since March when the outbreak began. This is how I would have handled the pandemic differently. I take this pandemic very seriously and believe that we need real, effective solutions to combat it. Without an effective plan we will continue to see case counts rise until we have a vaccine. Many lives could be saved in the meantime.


Trent Staggs is the Mayor of Riverton and a candidate for Salt Lake County Mayor.
Originally appeared in an op-ed written by Trent Staggs to The Salt Lake Tribune, 10/13/2020


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