116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Female inmates at a central Iowa state prison have been enlisted in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the state Department of Corrections, women incarcerated at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville are being paid to assemble COVID-19 at-home test kits.
The voluntary program is a joint project in which Iowa Prison Industries will assist the Iowa Department of Public Health and State Hygienic Lab with assembling the test kits and preparing them for shipment.
Iowa Prison Industries officials estimate the female inmates — who normally produce other products for Iowa Prison Industries — can assemble 25,000 test kits per week for shipment across Iowa. It’s possible to scale up production of 100,000 per week, if needed to boost the state's testing stockpile, they said.
Speaking to reporters at the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said there is a backlog of requests for the at-home COVID-19 test kits, with only a small percentage of requested kits getting used at this point.
“So what’s happening is people are stockpiling the test so that they’re ready to go into probably the fall,” Reynolds said. “We have very few that have actually activated the test and spit into the sample and sent it back.”
The governor also told reporters the state’s coronavirus website is being updated.
To date, 52,598 kits have been requested and 6,536 activated — indicating that Iowans are ordering to have kits on hand rather than for immediate use, state health agency spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said.
“Test kits are available either by ordering one from the (Iowa Prison Industries) website or for picking up throughout the state at 126 test kit pick-up sites,” Ekstrand said via email. “These sites can be found at testiowa.com.
“Testing is also widely available statewide through pharmacies, health care providers and private labs,” she said.
Iowans unable to pick up a kit in person can order one online at testiowa.com. The kits will be sent to their homes, and UPS will pick up the samples.
According to the online instructions, kits will be sent to out within 72 hours of the request. The hygienic lab will send results via email within 24 hours of receiving the sample, according to the state.
By partnering with the State Hygienic Laboratory, Ekstrand said, state officials have enhanced the state’s ability to provide access to free COVID testing since phasing out the drive-through TestIowa sites last month.
The free, at-home test kit program was launched July 16.
But the volume of requests increased the wait time for test kits, which can take several days to arrive and then require another wait to receive results after shipping the kit back for lab analysis.
“The vaccine remains the best tool we have to protect ourselves, our families and our communities against COVID-19,” Ekstrand said. “Vaccine is readily available for all eligible Iowans, including school-age children 12 and up.
“We encourage anyone who still has questions about the vaccine to reach out to their health care provider or local public health,” she said. Providers can be found on vaccinateiowa.gov.
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