CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds launches statewide coronavirus testing program

She asks Iowans to take online assessment, but questions about access arise

Test Iowa logo on header of website TestIowa.com
Test Iowa logo on header of website TestIowa.com
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JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds launched an aggressive public-private partnership Tuesday designed to ramp up the number of coronavirus tests statewide that could enable Iowa to more safely reopen many businesses and services in the future.

The governor said the state is using federal money dedicated to combating COVID-19 to implement a testing program, now being implemented in Utah, that will allow health officials to test up to 3,000 Iowans a day — or 540,000 over the next six months — to detect and slow the spread.

According to documents from the governor’s office, the contract carries a $26 million price tag. But the tests will be at no cost to Iowans.

“As Iowa and the nation prepare to reopen, the ability to conduct large-scale assessment and testing is critical to understand how prevalent this disease is and how it’s evolving,” Reynolds told a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Johnston.

“The amount of data available will help us start to control the virus while making evidence-based decisions about how to ease the restrictions that have impacted our daily lives and begin to open up our businesses in a safe and responsible manner.”

The new Test Iowa Initiative — the product of a partnership between the state and Nomi Health and its subsidiary DOMO, which has already launched a similar initiative in Utah — is designed to “crush the curve” by expanding testing capacity to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa, said partnership members who were linked into the governor’s news briefing.

Josh James, DOMO founder and chief executive officer, described the initiative as an effort to “fight the virus with a viral campaign” that included a #TestIowaChallenge video encouraging Iowans to go to TestIowa.com and complete an assessment there.

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The social media challenge asks all Iowans regardless of symptoms to take the assessment and get tested if needed. Iowans who are part of the essential workforce are especially encouraged, Reynolds said.

“DOMO is built for times when speed and agility are needed to inform critical decisions and actions at the executive level and at the front lines,” James said. “Moving quickly is critical in this time and may be the difference between organizations that make it and those that don’t. It’s up to everyone to be part of the solution in helping crush the curve and get us all back to work.”

The announcement came on a day Iowa saw its most ever new positive test results in a 24-hour period — 482, which brings the total number of Iowans known to have COVID-19 to 3,641.

Reynolds said 157 of the cases were from testing at Iowa meat-processing plants experiencing outbreaks — 100 were Tyson Fresh Meats employees and 57 were National Beef employees.

Previously, Iowa’s largest one-day jump was 389 new positive tests reported Sunday, with about two-thirds linked to outbreaks at meat-processing facilities.

Four more Iowans have died from coronavirus, bringing the statewide toll to 83, the governor said. The deaths were someone age 81 or older from Linn County, and three Polk County residents — two from 61 to 80 and one over 80.

Slightly more than half the victims have been in long-term care facilities. Currently 214 Iowans are hospitalized because of the virus, with 89 in intensive care and 60 on ventilators.

Positive test results were reported for the first time in Cherokee and Humboldt counties, bringing the number of counties where the disease has been found to 84 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

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A total of 10 counties posted double-digit increases in new cases, including Black Hawk County with 107, Johnson County with 69, Linn and Marshall with 51 each and Woodbury County with 37.

Overall, 27,615 Iowans have been tested so far — about one out of every 113 Iowans — with 23,974 having negative results.

Of those who had have COVID-19, about 35 percent, or 1,293, recovered.

The program at TestIowa.com invites Iowans to sign up for assessments with the goal of identifying outbreaks and hot spots while establishing a medical baseline whereby state officials will feel confident in reopening the state.

Reynolds said the program initially will focus on first responders and front-line health care professionals, then expand to food services and manufacturing as it ramps up to eventually cover all Iowans.

The testing program kicks off Wednesday at a long-term care facility in Tama. Testing will be done Saturday at a site in Des Moines, Reynolds said, with more locations to be announced next week as Iowa becomes the second state to embark on a large-scale testing initiative.

The assessment at TestIowa.com requires users to provide their name and address, birth date, height in inches, weight, an email address and a cellphone number.

The questionnaire asks people if they have symptoms of coronavirus, if they’ve been around someone who tested positive or have had respiratory symptoms in the last two weeks, if they have underlying medical conditions, how many people of what ages live at home, if they’ve been practicing social distancing and in what industry they work.

Those who qualify to be tested will be emailed a QR code they can take to a mobile testing site, which Reynolds said will be set up around the state as needed.

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Black Hawk County Health Director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said Tuesday the process leaves out a lot of low-income individuals who may not have an email address or even the internet at home.

Individuals who don’t want to share private medical information, those who don’t speak English or undocumented people also may be uncomfortable or unwilling to answer questions.

“The method in which they’ve communicated they’d do the testing is not really conducive for our community,” she said. “An individual would have to go online to answer a questionnaire and use a QR code, and some of our people don’t even have smartphones. You have to understand the community.”

But Black Hawk County. home to a Tyson meatpacking plant, is exactly the kind of “hot spot” about which officials are looking to get more information.

“The information collected is critical to better understand the virus activity across the state,” Reynolds said, noting it was also important to know where coronavirus activity was not occurring so that she could “responsibly” begin to reopen parts of Iowa.

Also Tuesday, Reynolds said she and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts are working together to ensure the most important operational and public health decisions are backed by real-time data.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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