CORONAVIRUS

New machines in Test Iowa initiative still unproven

State lab using own machines in ramped up testing effort

A medical worker gives a thumbs up Thursday to a resident after taking a sample for testing for COVID-19 at the Test Iow
A medical worker gives a thumbs up Thursday to a resident after taking a sample for testing for COVID-19 at the Test Iowa site at the Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center, 101 50th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — More than 20 days after Iowa signed a $26 million contract with a Utah company to expand testing in the state, the machines the firm supplied to run the samples still have not passed muster.

A time frame for completing the validation process for the Test Iowa lab machines is unknown, as the process can vary by machine, University of Iowa officials said Friday.

The validation process is undertaken to determine if the machines are processing tests accurately. To this point, the lab has processed the Test Iowa results using machines the State Hygienic Lab already had, officials told The Gazette.

Running side-by-side testing is part of the validation process. The lab then compares whether the machines yield the same results when the sample is run, officials said Friday. The side-by-side testing means the Test Iowa samples are being run at least twice to compare results.

The state does not break out how many of the 331,186 Iowans who by Friday have completed the coronavirus assessment at TestIowa.com have actually been tested. Test Iowa was initiated last month to ramp up testing of essential workers and Iowans showing COVID-19 symptoms. The state’s fourth drive-though location where people with appointments can be tested opened Thursday at the Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center in Cedar Rapids.

On Friday, Iowa posted a fourth straight day of double-digit deaths from coronavirus, with the latest 12 deaths reported by the state Department of Public Health bringing the statewide toll to 243 since COVID-19 was first confirmed March 8 in Iowa.

State health officials reported another 398 Iowans tested positive for the respiratory ailment, bringing that count to 11,457 of the 70,261 residents who have been tested — a positive rate of more than 16 percent.

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One in 44 Iowans has been tested for COVID-19, with 58,804 posting negative results, according to state data. A total of 4,685 people have recovered from the disease.

During a Thursday media briefing, Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters a backlog of test results that occurred due to validation of Test Iowa equipment had been “caught up,” but some Iowans who participated in drive-through sites set up around the state indicated they still were awaiting results.

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett confirmed Thursday that “a very small percentage” of coronavirus test samples collected under the Test Iowa program could not be processed because they were “potentially damaged,” resulting in incomplete results.

There were 407 Iowans who were hospitalized (with 34 admitted in the past 24 hours) for coronavirus-related illnesses and symptoms with 164 being treated in intensive care units and 109 requiring ventilators to assist their breathing.

Health officials said the 12 deaths reported Friday were: three in Woodbury County, two in Linn County and one each in Black Hawk, Dallas, Dubuque, Jasper, Louisa, Muscatine and Scott counties. No other information about the COVID-19 victims was available from state data.

According to officials, 51 percent of the Iowans who have died from coronavirus have been male — the same percentage that tested positive.

Iowans over the age of 80 represent 46 percent of the COVID-19 victims, followed by 41 percent between 61 and 80.

Of those who have tested positive, state data indicates about 42 percent are age 18 to 40; 37 percent are 41 to 60; 14 percent are 61 to 80 and 5 percent are 81 or older.

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Counties with the highest number of positive test results are Polk (2,150), Woodbury (1,532), Black Hawk (1,463) and Linn (813).

Earlier this week, state officials revamped the data available to the public at coronavirus.iowa.gov, with the new format no longer listing the age range of Iowans who died from coronavirus and providing information using a different timeline than before.

The governor did not hold a daily media briefing Friday due to scheduling conflicts created by Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Iowa. Garrett said Reynolds would resume her COVID-19 briefings next week.

John McGlothlen and Zack Kucharski of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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