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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite concerns from critics on the state’s handling of publicly available COVID-19 reports throughout the pandemic, the State Auditor’s Office “did not identify any significant concerns regarding the integrity of the data” from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
State Auditor Rob Sand reviewed COVID-19 data collected and reported by the state from March 1, 2020, through May 17, 2021, as part of a COVID-19 Audit Task Force, an effort with other state auditors offices to review states’ coronavirus data reporting.
In the new audit published Monday, the Democratic state auditor said there were opportunities for the state to improve its public coronavirus website to increase transparency and accountability.
Overall, the integrity of COVID-19 data reported on the state’s website, coronavirus.iowa.gov, was supported by lab results sent to the state public health department. Any delays or late-recorded test results “appear to be attributable entirely to private labs submitting results late, rather than to Iowa State government issues.”
The state entered into a contract with Utah-based Nomi Health in April 2020 to create the Test Iowa initiative, a program that established free coronavirus test sites throughout the state. All test results from the program were sent to the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa in Coralville to determine whether they were positive or negative for the novel coronavirus.
Data from Test Iowa, as well as from other labs, are published on the state-run COVID-19 dashboard, coronavirus.iowa.gov, and recorded in the Iowa Disease Surveillance System.
However, the auditor’s office was unable to verify whether certain data points were accurate, including hospitalizations and other related data submitted to the state.
In his report, Sand encouraged the state to add public school district and long-term care outbreak data dashboards back into the website.
“With the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, it is important comprehensive data be readily available to the public and officials of entities such as school districts and long-term care facilities for purposes of analysis and decision-making,” the report stated.
The state auditor also said the Iowa Department of Public Health should consider granting authorized officials access to “deidentified underlying data” for their agency to help them make informed decisions. For example, a superintendent of a school district should have access to de-identified data for their district, he said.
Sand also pointed to a previous audit, in July 2020, that asserted the process of reporting coronavirus test results under the $26 million Test Iowa Initiative was illegal and unnecessarily time-consuming.
The past audit found the State Hygienic Lab — instead of reporting test results directly to IDPH as required by law — reported them to a private entity that is part of the Test Iowa program.
In Monday’s report, state officials cited the processing capabilities of the Iowa Disease Surveillance System, software the public health department uses to create reports of acute infectious diseases in the state. This system, as well as others in other states, “failed as a result of being outdated.”
In August 2020, state officials said a “glitch” in the Iowa Disease Surveillance System was incorrectly backdating positive and negative test results on its website. State public health officials, who had been aware of the issue for weeks, placed blame on the antiquated software that was unable to handle the massive influx of coronavirus data.
According to the audit, the system is more than 15 years old and “was not designed to manage the volume and needs associated with a modern pandemic.”
The glitch was fixed by Aug. 19, according to the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen, which first reported the issue.
Sand encouraged IDPH and other state officials to work with the Legislature to replace the Iowa Disease Surveillance System and other legacy software systems used by the public health agency to collect and manage data
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