As Moab Regional Hospital rolls out asymptomatic testing to local businesses whose employees volunteer to take the tests, Doug Caylor, the CEO of the Free Health Clinic who is working with the hospital on the testing effort, said that he spends hours each day answering questions from businesses about the testing process.
The Times-Independent is publishing this set of answers to some of the top questions that the hospital and Caylor receive, to explain what the testing measures mean for locals, businesses, employees and others.
What’s the point of testing someone without symptoms?
People can unwittingly spread COVID-19 even if they have no symptoms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that a substantial portion — between 20% and 50% — of COVID-19 cases are people spreading the coronavirus despite having no symptoms.
More testing means more chances to catch a coronavirus outbreak before it grows. Employees of high-risk businesses are currently the focus of testing expansions since they are among the most likely to be exposed to the virus first amid an outbreak, as they interact directly with the public.
Is the testing free?
Testing is free to employers and employees, regardless of health insurance coverage.
Health insurance companies are required to cover 100% of COVID-19 testing costs on behalf of their policyholders. In situations where individuals do not have health insurance or where their insurance refuses to cover the costs, Moab Regional Hospital will cover the bill with available funding.
How deep does the swab go into the nose?
Not as deep as other tests.
“This is not the ‘deep’ nasopharyngeal swab many are averse to,” Caylor said. “This is a superficial swab of the nose performed by the employee.”
In the letter to high-risk businesses, MRH CEO Jen Sadoff said the test involves taking a sample “from the lower nasal area, which eliminates the slight discomfort associated with the nasal-pharyngeal swab, which tests higher in the nasal passage.”
Are the tests less accurate since they don’t go as far into the nose?
“Slightly,” according to Sadoff.
“While swabbing the lower nasal area is slightly less accurate, we hope that having no discomfort will ensure consistent participation in the program,” Sadoff said.
The hospital is also testing individuals less frequently than experts recommend — each employee participating in the program would get tested once every four weeks rather than once every two weeks.
Both the less frequent testing and use of a test that doesn’t go so deep into the nose are part of the hospital’s effort to encourage greater and more consistent participation, ensuring Moab is better protected from COVID-19.
What about privacy concerns?
Employee and employer participation in the asymptomatic testing program is voluntary, and the only person who receives the test result is the person who takes the test, according to the hospital.
Under federal law, the Southeast Utah Health Department and Moab Regional Hospital are required not to disclose identifying health information about individuals. These privacy protections from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protections remain in place amid the pandemic.
What’s in it for me?
Peace of mind and a reputation boost, according to the hospital. “With the known prevalence of asymptomatic spread, this program offers your employees, your clients, and their family members the security of knowing that employees are screening for asymptomatic spread,” said Sadoff in a letter to owners of high-risk local businesses.
Sadoff continued: “This is a great opportunity to promote your reputation as a business focused on a safe environment for clients, as well as protecting your business from the negative publicity of a large outbreak by identifying asymptomatic carriers earlier.”
What happens if a test comes back positive?
Only the people who test positive must quarantine, and they must only do so until they test negative for the coronavirus.
“Only the asymptomatic people who test positive for COVID-19 will need to quarantine,” Sadoff said, “until they are no longer shedding active virus in repeat testing.”
Why is the Mayo Clinic doing the asymptomatic tests, not the state?
State guidelines on coronavirus testing require that Utahns seeking a test express at least one of many symptoms associated with COVID-19. As such, state labs usually only test samples from people with symptoms. Private labs, such as at the Mayo Clinic, have different standards.
After searching for a private lab to do asymptomatic testing in Moab, the hospital decided to partner with the Mayo Clinic after reviewing their test and the capacity they had for Moab — roughly 200 tests per week, according to Caylor.