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Thanksgiving Week Lull Belies Coming COVID-19 Surge, Health Officials Say

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Despite a drop in confirmed COVID-19 cases across the Mountain West last week, public health officials are warning folks not to breathe a sigh of relief.

"Here [in Utah] a lot of the facilities that were doing testing were closed completely on Thanksgiving," said Utah Department of Health spokesperson Charla Haley. "I think that had a big impact on the smaller numbers of people testing positive as well as people just being tested in general."

All states in the region except Idaho and Nevada saw both positivity rates and the total number of new cases fall, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In addition to the closure of testing sites, some local health departments weren't reporting numbers due to the holiday.

Haley is still expecting a post-Thanksgiving Day surge in cases over the next two weeks. That's because some extended families and friend groups still gathered together indoors despite tough warnings from federal, state and local public health departments.

"So many people just don't want to do what we'd like them to do to protect themselves and others," said Haley.

The recent surge of state and national COVID-19 cases is also having an impact on test turnaround times. In Montana, some patients are waiting nearly two weeks for results to come back. The state health department says it's looking into options to further expand testing there. It currently processes most tests locally, but some are sent to the out-of-state contractor MAKO in North Carolina, which has received complaints recently for long lag times.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio. He earned an M.A. in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism in 2016 and interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in 2014. In a prior life, he toured around the country in a band, lived in Texas for a spell, and once tried unsuccessfully to fly fish. You can reach Nate at nate@ypradio.org.