Media Contacts

Kylene Metzger

Media Relations Specialist, Public Affairs

Mar 05, 2021 8:00 AM

March 5, 2021 – University of Utah Health started taking care of patients sick with COVID-19 at the beginning of March 2020. Over the last year, much has been learned about the novel virus and how to respond to it. U of U Health documented the historic year and all the ways our health care system adapted to better protect and serve our patients.

Preparing for a Pandemic

Before SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, not much was known about the virus, with cases mostly existing in China. At the time, coronavirus began to emerge as a potential public health concern. As a major health care provider in the state of Utah and the Mountain West region, U of U Health immediately began to prepare to treat patients.

  • Negative pressure screening tents were constructed outside University of Utah Hospital’s Emergency Department one day following a state of emergency declaration by former governor Gary Herbert.
  • Safety precautions were taken to better protect patients, faculty, and staff, such as restricting visitors at all U of U Health facilities and briefly postponing elective surgeries to help preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical supplies.
  • Later in the pandemic, University of Utah Hospital opened the B-50 COVID Unit to separate and treat COVID-positive patients. 

Conserving and Preserving PPE

The increased need for PPE became a growing concern across the world. U of U Health found ways to both conserve and preserve PPE.

  • Student volunteers from University of Utah School of Medicine held community collection drives to collect PPE to donate to the U of U Health system. In total, student volunteers collected more than 163,000 individual items of PPE.
  • Critical supplies were donated by generous donors within the state of Utah and even outside the United States. University of Utah Health graciously accepted more than 205,200 items of PPE.
  • The Center for Medical Innovation at U of U Health found ways to conserve and even properly reuse some medical equipment.
  • U of U Health embarked on a global initiative to enlist thousands of volunteers to produce millions of medical grade masks for frontline caregivers. Project Protect surpassed its goals by collecting more than six million face masks.

COVID-19 Testing

Testing for COVID-19 began at U of U Health on March 12, 2020. Criteria to be tested was very limited at the time. Since then, coronavirus testing at U of U Health has rapidly evolved. Criteria for testing has since loosened and transformed to continue to provide the best quality of care to patients. More than 323,000 patients have been tested for COVID-19 at U of U Health (as of Feb. 17, 2021).

The U of U Health Wellness Bus was also outfitted for coronavirus testing, focused on traveling to underserved communities. In ten months, the Wellness Bus team tested more than 14,500 people in the Salt Lake Valley through barriers-free testing.

COVID-19 Vaccines

U of U Health began administering COVID-19 vaccines just hours after receiving its first shipment from Pfizer-BioNTech. Due to limited supplies and logistical constraints, the vaccine was distributed in phases with an initial focus on frontline health care workers. More than 16,800 individuals have been immunized at U of U Health (as of Feb. 18, 2021).

  • Dec. 15, 2020: U of U Health vaccinates first round of frontline health care staff.
  • Jan. 7, 2020: Administration of the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine begins.
  • Mar. 1, 2021: Select patient groups begin receiving vaccines at Redwood Health Center and University Hospital.

Clinical Trials

Researchers and scientists went right to work trying to learn more about the new, unknown virus. As information was rapidly changing, clinical trials and investigations were launched and led by the Immunology, Inflammation, and Infectious Disease Initiative (3i). The research response to COVID-19 at U of U Health involves:

  • More than 130 research projects
  • $1.3 million in seed funding
  • $26 million in external funding
  • More than 100 academic publications


U of U Health helped assist the University of Utah by testing for COVID-19 for students, faculty, and staff. In Fall 2020, housing students were tested upon move-in and voluntary tested throughout the semester. Asymptomatic testing was offered to the broader student population starting before Thanksgiving break. Symptomatic/exposure-based testing was also available throughout the semester. By Spring 2021, the campus testing program expanded thanks to the University Core Labs PCR test, which provided greater test capacity, faster turnaround, increased accuracy, and decreased cost.

From August 2020 – March 2021:

  • Nearly 42,500 COVID-19 tests were processed
  • 12,400 unique students were tested
  • 13,500 unique faculty, students, and staff were tested

State, Community, and Campus Partnerships

  • Utah HERO Project: The David Eccles School of Business at University of Utah and University of Utah Health initiated Utah HERO (Health & Economic Recovery Outreach) to randomly test Utahns to determine the COVID-19 infection rate in Utah. In Phase two of the project, more than 24,000 individuals were surveyed and nearly 19,000 blood samples were collected.
  • COVID-19 Contact Tracing: The Division of Public Health at University of Utah partnered with the Utah Department of Health to trace COVID-19 contacts.
  • COVID Community Partnership (CCP): The Wellness Bus participated in the CCP to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and provide coronavirus testing in underrepresented communities in Utah. Overall, testing for COVID-19 through the Wellness Bus reached more racial/ethnic minority communities than all other testing sites conducted in Utah statewide.
  • Navajo Nation Donation: The Office of Health, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at University of Utah’s School of Medicine partnered with the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake to provide essential supplies for the Navajo Nation. The donation from local Utahns filled three U-Haul moving trucks and one minivan.
  • COVID-19 Support Groups: Through the University of Utah College of Nursing’s Caring Connections program, people who have been impacted by COVID-19 can seek comfort through support groups.
  • Vice Presidential Debate: University of Utah Health helped assist in COVID-19 testing and coronavirus safety protocols for the VP Debate held on the University of Utah campus. More than 2,100 people were tested for COVID-19 for the event.

Support for Frontline Staff

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, faculty and staff at University of Utah Health have been overwhelmed by the generosity of businesses, organizations, and individuals in the community. Friends, family, and even strangers have reached out in many ways to show their support for our frontline health care workers.

  • White ribbons pinned to people’s jackets and coats showed support for medical staff.
  • #UtahCares was used on social media to thank and acknowledge health care heroes in Utah.
  • The F-35A Lightning II Demonstration and 288th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base performed a formation flyover throughout the state to salute everyone on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.
  • Utah first responders paid tribute to U of U health care workers with a vehicle procession in front of University Hospital.
  • Nearly 73,000 meals and snacks were distributed across the U of U Health care system donated by local businesses and individuals in Utah.



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