CORONAVIRUS

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds dismisses scrutiny of coronavirus testing

Report: Experts question accuracy of similar Utah effort

Test Iowa logo on header of website TestIowa.com
Test Iowa logo on header of website TestIowa.com
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With the company hired to check more than a half million Iowans for the coronavirus under scrutiny for whether its tests are accurate, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday that experts at the State Hygienic Lab were working to ensure the integrity off the Test Iowa Initiative she has described as vital to reopening the state.

The testing initiative kicked off last weekend in Des Moines and expanded Wednesday to Waterloo. It later will come to other communities, including starting May 11 in Cedar Rapids.

But when those test results are counted, they will be reported to the public mixed in with other test results conducted by the state lab and other approved labs, a state public health official said. By intermingling the results, the public will not be able to tell whether test kits and results from the private company jibe with the others that will continue.

The company, Nomi Health, is facing those very questions in Utah, where it runs a similar testing program.

The state of Iowa awarded a $26 million no-bid contract to the Utah-based Nomi to ramp up coronavirus testing here.

Under the contract, Nomi was to eventually deliver 540,000 test kits to Iowa, provide testing equipment and establish the TestIowa.com website where Iowans could be screened and, if necessary, schedule a test.

The company operates a similar TestUtah.com initiative in that state.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported Thursday that the rate of positive results among people tested at TestUtah.com sites is less than half of what it is for patients tested elsewhere in the state. According to the Tribune, 2 percent of symptomatic patients at TestUtah.com sites have tested positive for coronavirus since April 1. That’s less than half of the 5 percent of patients who have tested positive at other Utah sites.

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That raises the possibility that someone could actually have COVID-19 — but still test negative.

The Tribune cited Utah state public health data in its reporting.

But the Iowa Department of Public Health does not plan to report TestIowa.com results separately from other results. Some TestIowa.com results, in fact, already have been included in the state’s daily reporting, said state public health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter.

During her daily briefing on the state’s pandemic response efforts, Reynolds said experts at the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa are working to ensure the Test Iowa results are accurate and providing reliable information.

The governor said the company’s equipment was still being validated for accuracy.

“That’s why we have Test Iowa located at the State Hygienic Lab. We’re working with a team that is very qualified, that have been doing (infectious disease) testing for a long, long time. There’s a lot of expertise in that lab,” Reynolds said from the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

“That’s why they’re taking the time that they are, to make sure that they’re validating the process so that we can ensure Iowans that the results that they are receiving are accurate. … I feel confident that we’ll be able to demonstrate that to Iowans.”

Hoever, Pat Garrett, her spokesman, separately told The Gazette the TestIowa.com results were processed using both the equipment the company provided and equipment already at the state lab. But state officials would not say how many of the 870 recent tests were run by the lab.

While officials in Utah raised concerns about where the tests there were being run — at a small hospital, not a state lab like in Iowa — Utah health experts also raised concerns over the adequacy of the test itself, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

The test kits, the newspaper reported, had received emergency government approval but were believed by experts to require a larger sample than was being collected by TestUtah.com to get accurate results.

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Reynolds has said expanded testing, driven by the TestIowa.com program, is one reason she felt comfortable relaxing some of the mitigation policies for some businesses in 77 of the state’s counties starting today.

For the second consecutive day Thursday, the state confirmed a new single-day high death toll from the virus, with 14 new deaths reported.

Three of the deaths were of Linn County residents between the ages of 61 and 80.

A total of 162 Iowa deaths from the virus have been confirmed since early March.

There were 302 new confirmed cases announced Thursday, for a total of 7,145.

Across the state, 335 people were hospitalized due to the virus — another new single-day high — including 49 who were admitted in the past 24 hours, according to state public health data.

The highest number of cases and hospitalizations remain concentrated in central and Eastern Iowa. The north central, northwest and southwest regions, which cover half of the state, combined for just 70 of the 335 hospitalizations.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.