Coronavirus 01

Utah has started “random” testing for the coronavirus from samples doctors and hospitals have already taken from patients who were sampled for colds and the flu, said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state point-man in fighting the fast-moving disease.

Cox spoke to a Tuesday afternoon press conference called by Gov. Gary Herbert to discuss the coming end of the 2020 Legislature, which adjourns midnight Thursday.

State medical officials were testing about 15 to 20 of the samples taken from patients ill with the flu or bad cold, but by Friday a University of Utah agency will be “randomly” testing around 400 samples a day, said Cox.

Testing those samples for coronavirus will give state and county health officials an idea of where the virus is moving, if it is moving at all.

Trump administration health and emergency officials have been harshly criticized for not conducting enough virus tests across the country, and in specific areas where the virus is known.

Cox and Herbert clearly don’t want to see that happen in Utah, and both leaders went to great lengths Tuesday to convince reporters that health officials here are on top of both testing and following up on the two known coronavirus cases here, and who those patients came in contact with.

Cox said that there are two health care workers who saw both those Utah patients, who got the virus in their out-of-U.S. travels, who now in turn are quarantined, just in case they got the virus.

Cox said the two health care workers are an example of what shouldn’t happen -- Utahns who fear they may have the virus, or believe they may have come into contact with a person who does have the virus, should call their health care professionals BEFORE going into a doctor’s office, clinic or emergency room.

Because if it turns out that the person feeling unwell does indeed have the virus, then all the health care workers they see in the office who have NOT had time to gear up to protect themselves and others may well have to stay out of work for two weeks, self-quaranteeing.

And, said Cox, the real problem with the virus is not the disease itself — since most patients have a mild case — but overwhelming health care facilities so that people really sick with the virus can’t properly be taken care of, or people with other health emergencies -- like a heart attack -- can’t get the treatment they need, and normally would get, because the system is overcrowded with virus patients and understaffed by health care workers exposed to it and not at work.

Meanwhile, while House and Senate leaders have taken precautions to keep legislators more isolated from lobbyists and visitors as they rush to finish their general session Thursday -- for now large busloads of school children and others visiting the Capitol won’t be stopped.

Cox emphasized that there is no virus in the building, that staff are taking normal precautions, like not shaking hands and often washing hands, and since there is no threat, there is no reason now for the public not to come to view from the galleries or talk to their legislators -- even if legislators may prefer to talk to them via text or emails.