Government

Iowa looks to $100M in federal aid to continue coronavirus testing

'Test Iowa' on verge of providing all tests called for in contract

Medical workers May 7 put samples from residents that will be tested for COVID-19 into a cooler at a Test Iowa site in C
Medical workers May 7 put samples from residents that will be tested for COVID-19 into a cooler at a Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A $100 million infusion of federal funds will maintain Iowa’s COVID-19 testing capacity through the coming months, Gov. Kim Reynolds and her staff say.

The state’s continued ability to provide testing for Iowans will be critical as new COVID-19 cases have been spiking and the annual flu season is fast approaching.

Using federal funds, Iowa on April 15 entered into a $26 million contract with Nomi Health of Utah to boost the state’s testing capacity. While the contract covers support for a full year, the original terms called for Nomi to produce 540,000 COVID-19 tests in the contract’s first five months.

As of last week, Nomi had produced 510,000 tests, and the remaining 30,000 were expected over the next two weeks, the governor’s office said. If the company delivers on that schedule, it would meet its 540,000-test pledge almost exactly on the five-month dot.

Before a recent influx of old tests that were added to the state’s testing numbers, the state had been averaging roughly 6,500 recorded COVID-19 test results a day, according to state public health data.

But what’s next?

Iowa has become one of the nation’s hot spots for new coronavirus cases, driven by college students who have returned to campus for the fall semester. Many K-through-12 schools across the state also have started within the past two weeks, and the annual influenza season looms on the horizon.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects COVID-19 infections will continue to rise in Iowa at least through January.

In other words, Iowa’s testing needs are not going away any time soon.

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“We are nowhere out of this,” said Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal and palliative medicine physician at UnityPoint Health in Des Moines. “We’re going to need robust testing, probably more than we have now at least for the next month, best-case scenario, before we even get on top of this and start bending the curve downward again.

“Then we would need continued robust testing to safely open the economy and society back up again.”

Baeth said a best-case scenario would include a statewide face mask mandate, a policy that Reynolds has resisted.

Reynolds said this past week the state had been able to put $100 million in additional federal funding toward increased testing. Her office said that funding boost should keep Iowa’s testing capacity healthy in the coming months.

The governor said Iowa’s testing strategy would not only remain sufficient but could be flexible as new testing technologies emerged.

“Testing strategies are changing. We’re talking about different methods, we’re talking about different mediums, they’re looking at saliva tests,” Reynolds said during a news conference. “So we wanted to make sure that we had an adequate supply of tests to really meet the needs of Iowans and to really be able to provide this for K-12 (schools) and for colleges and universities, for our health care facilities, to businesses.

“We wanted to make sure that we had an adequate supply, but that we also took into account that we know that this is rapidly changing. And we didn’t want to be sitting on a bunch of tests, either.”

Reynolds said testing needs could change in the near future, especially during the flu season. She suggested the state may want to procure tests that simultaneously test for both COVID-19 and influenza.

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And a spokesman for the governor indicated the administration is making plans for when testing sites will need to be moved indoors once the weather starts to turn colder.

“As we move into flu season we might want to be able to do multi-testing with one medium,” Reynolds said. “So that’s something else that we’re looking at and being very proactive and strategic, and thinking about how we start to look at how we approach the flu season.”

More than 650,000 Iowans have been tested for COVID-19, according to state public health data. That number includes tests from myriad sources, including the Test Iowa Initiative under the contract and health care clinics.

The state does not report Test Iowa results to the public separately from other tests.

Before a recent influx of old tests that were added to the state’s testing numbers, the state had been averaging roughly 6,500 recorded COVID-19 test results a day, according to state public health data.

State public health officials say about 1 of every 5 Iowans has been tested.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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