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Intermountain Healthcare Hits 1 Million COVID Test Milestone

MURRAY, Utah – Intermountain Healthcare has now processed more than 1 million COVID-19 tests, reaching that milestone one year after the virus emerged in the U.S. But they didn’t get there without major challenges.

Many Utahns have been tested for COVID-19 at least once. The lab work they do to get those results for Utahns is some of the critical unseen work going on during this pandemic. The fifth person to be tested by Intermountain Healthcare nearly a year ago told KSL-TV why it’s necessary.

“It was a really rough time,” said Julian Romero, who got sick in March after attending a music festival in California with friends.

Initially, when he went to an InstaCare with COVID-19 symptoms, he was not even tested for the virus due to a scarcity of tests.

“I was still really sick — severe flu symptoms, fever; my bones, my joints ache,” he said.

Romero ended up in the Intermountain emergency room and was the fifth patient to get a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.

He was released, but he was far from finished with his bout with COVID-19 that even included hallucinations three weeks into the illness.

“I was seeing like a black and white flashing pattern that took over my whole vision,” he said. “I was confused. I couldn’t see for about an hour.”

He made multiple trips to the emergency room over several weeks with terrible COVID-19 symptoms.

“It took about a month and a half for me to finally start feeling better,” he said.

Romero said he’s thankful Intermountain ramped up its testing program when it did last winter.

“That’s truly the way to try to combat this virus,” Romero said.

Testing is essential for monitoring and controlling COVID-19, and Intermountain Healthcare lab workers have overcome many challenges. They developed their own COVID-19 test and overcame persistent supply challenges.

“Working just hours and hours of overtime, it’s been a very, very difficult year in the laboratory,” said Tara Hall, Intermountain Healthcare molecular pathology manager. “But what kept us going is knowing that we can do something to help our communities get back to normal.”

After developing their first COVID-19 PCR test, they tested 14 people on March 13. By the end of that month, they were processing 2,000 tests a day.

“People in our communities had access to high-quality, quick COVID testing well ahead of most of the rest of the nation,” said Dr. Sterling Bennett, Intermountain Healthcare central lab medical director.

They now process 7,000 tests a day and get the results to 90% of the patients in less than 24 hours.

“Despite these challenges, our laboratory caregivers throughout Intermountain stepped up in an astounding way to meet this unprecedented demand for testing,” said Bennett.

The Intermountain lab system has also adapted to test for COVID-19 variants. They share those positive samples with the Utah Department of Health for genetic sequencing.

“We’re currently in a foot race between vaccine administration and the emergence of variants,” said Dr. Bert Lopansari, Intermountain Healthcare medical director for microbiology lab & associate medical director of infectious diseases.

The vaccines provide hope that we will one day emerge from the pandemic, he said. The variants pose a threat to progress.

“It’s easy to look at this as numbers,” said Hall. “But we constantly remind ourselves that we are supporting patients and we are supporting our community.”

They are supporting the community with one of the most critical aspects of this campaign. The Intermountain doctors said testing and masking continue to be the most effective ways to fight the virus until the vaccines catch up.

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