CORONAVIRUS

Concerns linger after Iowa spends $230K on contact tracing software

Some local public health officials say delays continue

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Thursday, Nov.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa has paid more than $230,000 so far to a Utah company for contact tracing software that still is causing delays for some public health departments as they track COVID-19.

In a service order amendment signed in July by Paul Trombino, interim director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the state agreed to pay Domo $75,000 a year for a new custom app for COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing.

That subscription fee was prorated to $55,479 for the first year of a three-year contract, which The Gazette obtained through an open records request.

The deal also calls for Iowa to pay $175,000 for professional services for app implementation.

Several local public health departments were critical of the software in November, saying it was slowing their contact tracing at a time the virus was surging. Since then, the state has started holding weekly webinars to answer public health officials’ questions, but delays continue.

“There are still some slower days, where the system seems to lag with data input,” Sam Jarvis, community health division manager for the Johnson County Department of Public Health, said in late December.

When case levels were at a peak in early November, Johnson County officials decided to hold off entering new information from interviews into the Domo system because it was too time-consuming.

Now “with lower case numbers we have been able to get back to that and work on the backlog of data,” Jarvis said.

In Linn County, concerns about the Domo app caused state Sen. Liz Mathis to ask State Auditor Rob Sand during a Nov. 24 town hall meeting whether the contact tracing software was included in the state’s $26 million Test Iowa contract, signed in April.

“What are we paying for? Did we sign up for this?” Mathis asked.

Kaitlin Emrich, assessment and health promotion supervisor for Linn County Public Health, said in late December the Domo software was working better.

“The use of Domo has improved and we are able to perform contact tracing more efficiently than previously,” she said.

The Test Iowa contract with Nomi Health, a Utah firm, and partners Domo, Qualtrics and Co-Diagnostics, did not include a competitive bidding process designed to get Iowans the best deal. Gov. Kim Reynolds waived those requirements as part of an early public health disaster proclamation.

The $250,000 contact tracing app is considered an extension of the Test Iowa contract, Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said last week.

“The contract (is) paid through CARES Act funding, specifically the Epidemiology & Laboratory Capacity budget for case investigation,” Ekstrand said in an email.

The July service order amendment also includes $260,000 for 1,040 hours ($250 an hour) for Domo staff to develop data visualization for the state’s coronavirus website, specifically a new vaccine dashboard. That dashboard isn’t yet available on the state’s website, although vaccinations have started in Iowa.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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