JOHNSTON — The state is spending over $3 million in federal aid on 360,000 more COVID-19 test kits and increasing the number of appointments available at each Test Iowa location, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday.
The state is ratcheting up its testing as the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations snowball to new highs and hospital officials increasingly express alarm over swelling patient loads.
Reynolds told reporters the state still has about 140,000 test kits contracted with Utah-based NOMI Health that will carry Iowa until about mid-December. So she sought the additional 360,000 kits at a cost of about $3.42 million. The tests will maintain an aggressive initiative to track the pandemic in Iowa and respond to it.
Initially, the state contracted with NOMI Health for 540,000 test kits at a cost of $26 million, also paid out of federal CARES Act funds.
“We’re seeing significant community spread across our entire state both in our metro and rural communities,” the governor told reporters on a day when 4,338 new positive COVID-19 cases were reported along with 30 more confirmed deaths. Since March, Iowa has posted 170,359 total cases and 1,928 deaths resulting from the coronavirus.
“Each of us have the ability to make a difference over the next few weeks, and I believe we all want the end of this month to look a lot different than it did when it started,” Reynolds said. “And together we can make that happen and we must.”
Earlier this week, she implemented new emergency restrictions — including a mandate to wear masks at large public gatherings — intended to slow a surge in COVID-19 cases that threatens to overwhelm Iowa’s health care system and force more schools to switch temporarily to online learning.
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The governor said each Test Iowa site is adding 200 daily appointments to address shortages being reported in various communities, with the expansion bringing available daily appointments at drive-through sites to 1,000 in Des Moines, 840 each in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo and 520 in Council Bluffs — a 4,040 daily total and 20,200 tests provided each week Monday through Friday.
Aid from the CARES Act will cover about $80,000 in support services at each site per month.
“We want to make sure that we’ve got a supply chain there so we could continue to offer Iowans that opportunity,” Reynolds said, noting the state has the capacity to process about 6,000 tests each day with efforts underway to expand that.
She noted that Iowans who are having trouble getting timely Test Iowa appointments have other options at clinics and doctor’s offices.
Reynolds conceded that the state has had problems finding additional indoor Test Iowa locations as the weather turns colder, and she said she was open to considering offering vouchers to help Iowans cover private testing costs if they are having trouble getting appointments at free testing sites.
Iowa also has received over 215,000 BinaxNow rapid tests, and will continue to receive more, which have been distributed to clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities across the state.
Since Nov. 1, Iowa has reported more than 37,000 new positive COVID-19 cases with an average statewide positivity rate of 21.8 percent, the governor said. Health officials note that about 2 percent of all Iowans currently have the virus.
A public service announcement campaign has been launched, first with newspaper advertisements and radio spots this week and TV ads to follow next week, urging Iowans to do their part.
“We’re counting on Iowans to step up and do the right thing,” she told reporters. “If everybody steps up and takes action to do that, eventually we’re hoping that we can flatten that curve.”
The state will spend about $500,000 in CARES Act funds for the public service announcements.
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Under her latest public health disaster emergency proclamation, the governor places additional “targeted” restrictions on social, community, leisure and recreational events. For any such gathering of 10 people or more, there must be 6 feet of social distancing between groups. The groups are limited to eight people, unless members are from the same family. If an indoor event exceeds 25 people — or an outdoor event exceeds 100 people — all over age 2 must wear a mask except when eating and drinking, or the gatherings are prohibited.
Groups going to bars or restaurants are similarly limited to eight people (except for family members, which can be more), and all patrons at bars and restaurants must be seated at tables at all times except for restroom use or other limited reasons.
At their Wednesday meeting, the Iowa Board of Health passed a resolution recommending a statewide mask mandate be put in place to slow the COVID-19 spread.
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