CORONAVIRUS

Reynolds predicts capacity to run 5,000 coronavirus tests daily

Three weeks after Test Iowa announced, machines now validated

Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference Thursday at the stat
Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference Thursday at the state emergency operations center in Johnston. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)
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JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed confidence Thursday in Iowa’s ability to “manage and contain” the COVID-19 epidemic now that Test Iowa equipment has been validated, enabling health officials to “ramp up” processing 5,000 tests a day in a targeted strategy to reopen more businesses beginning Friday.

During her daily briefing, Reynolds acknowledged there have been problems associated with the state’s $26 million no-bid testing initiative, but expressed confidence the program has turned the corner and more and better results are ahead.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” the governor told reporters, noting she expects the eight Test Iowa sites — including one to open Saturday in Storm Lake — and the State Hygienic Lab will be able to process up to 5,000 tests per day now.

The process of validating the testing equipment the contractor provided was finished three weeks after Reynolds announced the partnership with Nomi Health, a Utah start up.

She said the process has achieved 95 percent accuracy for determining positives and a 99.7 percent accuracy rate for determining negatives.

More than 4,300 Iowans have been screened for COVID-19 at drive-through Test Iowa sites, she noted. Roughly 4,000 have received their results but about 300 are still waiting, and problems have developed with some samples were damaged in processing or inconclusive.

“For those Iowans who have reached out to tell us that we’ve fallen short of meeting their expectations, we hear you,” she said. “Now that the lab has completed the validation process, we expect more tests will be processed more quickly and your results will be delivered on a timely basis.”

A Test Iowa call center will be established soon to assist Iowans, Reynolds said.

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“We’re focused on process improvement,” the governor said. “As we continue to ramp up, we’re working on optimizing our operations and improving the overall Test Iowa experience.”

A Democratic lawmaker asked Thursday that the Legislature’s House Government Oversight Committee be convened to look into the scope and metrics of the $26 million Test Iowa contract.

“There have been a lot of questions about how this was implemented and the fact that we’re not seeing the tests that we should every day and were promised,” Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said during a teleconference of the Legislative Council. “Who are they answering to and I’m wondering if there is any oversight? For $26 million, I really think we need to be making sure … that it’s being spent correctly and who’s seeing the advantage of it.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was noncommittal, saying he had not discussed that with the committee’s chairwoman and had been focused on other topics as majority Republicans prepare to return to the Capitol June 3 to complete the 2020 session that they paused in mid-March.

Similar to Iowa, Nebraska signed a $27 million contract with the same Utah company and also is running behind on meeting its goal of running 3,000 tests a day.

Like Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts also expressed confidence Thursday that testers will reach that pace “at some point,” the Associated Press reported.

Reynolds said a total of 89,294 Iowans have been tested and 402,377 have filled out assessments at TestIowa.com.

She expected Iowa will reach a point where “we’ll be able to open it up and, if Iowans want to get a test, they’ll be able to do that. That’s kind of the approach that we’re taking, but we’re probably not quite there yet.”

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Officials with the state Department of Public Health released data Thursday showing another 12 Iowans had died from the coronavirus, bringing the statewide toll to 318 since the respiratory disease was found March 8 in Iowa.

One ongoing trouble spot, Reynolds said, has been outbreaks in 35 of Iowa’s 444 long-term care facilities where 57 percent, or 180, of Iowa’s 318 COVID-19 deaths have occurred despite precautions and testing.

“We know the virus spreads quickly and efficiently in settings where people live and work closer together,” said Sarah Reisetter, the Public Health Department deputy director.

“We know this is an incredibly difficult and frightening time with residents typically isolated from their families and loved ones due to restricted visitation policies,” she added. “Our hearts are with you and we look forward to the day when families and friends can be together again.”

Statewide, another 386 Iowans tested positive Thursday, bringing that count to 13,675 statewide with 46 percent of that total being able to recover successfully. There were 405 Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms or illnesses, with 134 of them in intensive care units and 93 using ventilators to assist their breathing. But the governor noted 77 percent of ICU beds and 76 percent of ventilators were available in Iowa, giving her confidence to proceed with a three-phased strategy to “stabilize, recover and grow.”

Because of that, Reynolds said she believed Iowa’s 22 counties hardest hit by the disease — including Linn and Johnson — were ready to begin reopening businesses starting Friday.

She said she felt safe the pandemic would not overwhelm Iowa’s health care system, and could be managed provided that Iowans observe social distancing guidelines, practice good hygiene, wear masks where appropriate, and stay home when ill.

“It’s not going to go away,” Reynolds said of the pandemic. “It’s going to be here until we find a vaccine and so we have to live with it until a vaccine is finalized or approved through the (Food and Drug Administration) and we can do it and we can do it in a responsible manner.”

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Reynolds said each business in Iowa given approval to reopen will determine its own timetable, and Iowans need to take responsibility for their decisions.

Jessica Dunker of the Iowa Restaurant Association said eateries are going to have to modify menus, reassemble mask-wearing employees and establish sanitation and customer standards while operating at half capacity under the rules.

“Nobody built a business on a model where you were serving 50 percent capacity in a restaurant,” Dunker said during a radio interview Thursday. “We can limp along for a while. This gets us off the precipice of complete decimation into the limping stage, but we’ll take limping at this point. We’ll take that because we’re anxious to get back to work.”

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

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