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University Of Utah Health Keeping COVID-19 Testing Crews Cool

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Medical workers from University of Utah Health have been searching for ways to stay cool at drive-through coronavirus test sites, despite blistering heat and record high summer temperatures.

As soon as they knew they would be setting up testing sites, organizers started asking critical questions about employee safety.

“What do we need to keep our employees safe and healthy? What kind of things do we need to put in place?” said Jerry North, senior director of facilities and engineering for University of Utah Health.

In the heat of the day in Utah, timing is everything, so University of Utah Health is not doing any outdoor testing at any of their sites past 1:30 p.m., and they’re starting at 7 a.m. to beat the heat.

“The number one priority from the beginning of this was the health and safety of our staff,” said North.

That’s challenging enough when they are dealing with the coronavirus. Add triple digit temperatures, and the potential health hazards mount.

“It’s rough. Those gowns are plastic,” said Nikki Gilmore, senior nursing director for community clinics for University of Utah Health.

The nursing supervisor recently worked a shift in the tent to see what it was like for herself.

“So just imagine yourself outside in 100° wrapped in Saran wrap. That is rough,” she said.

University of Utah Health makes sure all workers have a place in the shade, and team leaders regularly check to make sure they’re doing OK. The workers hydrate and take breaks, even when they say they don’t need to, rotating every 45 minutes to an hour.

“We’ve had to say, ‘hey, it’s important for your health to make sure that you’re rotating through,’” said North.

But the biggest game changers, according to the workers, are the vests.

“You won’t see any big fans blowing air around or anything like that,” he said. “That’s important because we can’t be pushing air throughout these spaces where we are testing patients.”

Substantial breaks out of the heat are critical.

“You really have to go get in front of some AC and some ice to really get your body temperature down enough to be prepared to go back out there,” said Gilmore.

At the Redwood Road testing location, they are trying out an air conditioned cooling shed. That shed is cool in the summer, but it can also be hot in the winter, so they are already planning ahead for what they will do to test patients when it’s freezing outside.

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