VASA Fitness closes temporarily due to coronavirus 01

A face mask remains in the parking lot of the VASA Fitness located just off University Parkway in Orem on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Though he’s no longer at the Utah State Capitol day-to-day now that the legislative session is over, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is still thinking of policies and actions that could benefit the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is because Ward is also a practicing physician, one who specializes in family medicine at the Ogden Clinic in Bountiful.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ward said his clinic has tested dozens of patients for coronavirus, a handful of whom tested positive. One of those patients has since passed away, accounting for one of five reported deaths in the state.

The state representative and physician said his clinic has “intermittently been running out of tests,” at which point they refer patients to Intermountain Healthcare or University of Utah testing centers.

In order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further and ensure the health and safety of Utahns, Ward said the state needs a greater supply of testing kits, swabs and chemicals.

“I wish that there was more widespread availability of testing,” he said. “Like I say, my clinic has run out a couple of times of swabs to be able to test people.”

According to the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, approximately 18,500 Utahns are reported to have been tested for coronavirus as of Tuesday.

“We’re better than we were a week ago, but we’re not as good as we should be yet with tests that are available,” Ward said.

He added that the issue isn’t that too few testing kits are being allotted to Utah or other states, but that there is a physical shortage of tests throughout the country.

“We need to just have there be a much larger amount of manufacturing,” said Ward. “The overall need is just for a much larger volume to be produced.”

And the longer the pandemic goes on, the greater the need for people to get tested multiple times will grow, Ward said, so it isn’t enough for individuals to be given a single test.

A shortage of testing kits and supplies is only part of the problem, as Ward sees it. To prevent coronavirus cases from growing exponentially, Ward said stricter quarantine and social distancing measures should be taken.

“I think we would get better quicker with a tighter quarantine,” he said. “But I don’t know the exact right set of rules to do that.”

For one, Ward said officials should get serious about recommending that people who test positive isolate themselves from their families, or “that we at least offer them a place where they could come quarantine, maybe at a hotel, maybe at the school gymnasium, or somewhere where they just weren’t around anyone who wasn’t sick yet.”

“Every single additional person who gets sick is not only a risk to them(selves), but they’re a risk to pass it on,” said Ward. “So I just wish we were giving people a chance to come quarantine where we knew, and they knew, for sure they wouldn’t make somebody else sick.”

There were 887 reported coronavirus cases in Utah as of Tuesday, significantly less than in states like New York, New Jersey and Michigan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ward credited social distancing measures already taken in the state, including the closure of schools, sporting venues and worship services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the relatively low number of cases.

“I think those three things have bought us a little bit of time,” he said.

But the spread will continue as long as non-essential businesses and services, a term that Ward admitted is difficult to define, remain open.

“Unless we are able to close those all down, it still is going to get a lot worse,” Ward said.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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