Thursday, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services said there have been seven newly reported deaths from the virus in the state over the past week. That’s the most lives lost to the virus since nine deaths were reported for the week ending May 5.
Utah’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 5,425, with the highest single-day loss of life coming during the first year of the pandemic, in November 2020, when 26 Utahns were reported to have died from the virus.
The current deaths are a Cache County man, 25-44 years old; two Salt Lake County women, one 65-84 and the other, over 85; a Salt Lake County man over 85; a Sanpete County woman over 85; a Utah County man over 85; and a Wasatch County man, 65-84.
Testing is still seen by health care experts as key to slowing the spread of COVID-19, but free at-home testing kits have been harder to come by since the pandemic emergency ended earlier this year.
Now, the Biden administration has announced the reopening of a program to provide COVID-19 at-home testing kits by mail at no cost. Starting Monday, Americans can order four kits online, at covidtests.gov.
The price tag for approximately 200 million more at-home test kits is $600 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which said the kits are being manufactured domestically in seven states.
“These critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the spread of the virus,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
Older at-home testing kits may still be usable, since the expiration date has been extended on many. A list of tests authorized for home use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the updated expiration dates for each, is available online.
Even though new variants of the virus are circulating, including BA.2.86 or Pirola, which has been detected in wastewater from a Tooele sewage treatment plant, the tests are still expected to detect COVID-19.
“The tests perform as well as they did a year ago,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the University of Utah Health Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, told reporters at a recent virtual news conference about a “dramatic” increase in COVID-19.
But, Pavia advised, “one home test is pretty good, but far from perfect. Where you get really accurate information is if you do a home test and if it’s negative, you repeat it within the next 24 hours.”
Two negative at-home tests approaches the accuracy of a lab-processed PCR test, he said.
“So one test, all by itself, is only fair. Two tests are very good. And the new virus variants don’t change that,” Pavia said, noting that even someone who tests negative after being sick with COVID-19 could still be contagious for several more days.