CORONAVIRUS

Iowa House Democrats concerned Iowa won't meet coronavirus testing requirements for long-term care

Roberta Maas of Watkins (left) and her younger brother Mark walk up to their mom's window to visit her in her room at He
Roberta Maas of Watkins (left) and her younger brother Mark walk up to their mom’s window to visit her in her room at Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 16, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — House Democrats expressed concern that Iowa’s COVID-19 testing program at long-term care facilities set out by the Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration will not be able to meet the requirements spelled out under revised federal guidelines to prevent outbreaks among staff and residents.

Legislative Democrats made public a letter from the state Department of Public Health and State Hygienic Laboratory to “long-term care partners in Iowa” indicating state facilities likely could not provide testing services for surveillance purposes until the federal Health and Human Services agency supplies rapid point-of-care diagnostic testing supplies and equipment to Iowa facilities.

State health officials say they have partnered with long-term care centers in COVID-19 testing and will continue to do so. But they noted that “the volume and frequency” generated by the new federal requirement for routine staff testing on top of current testing “will exceed” the State Hygienic Lab’s capacity.

“Therefore, (the State Hygienic Lab) will be unable to provide and process routine tests for Iowa’s long-term care facility staff members for the purpose of complying with the (federal) rule,” the letter said.

If facilities are unable to meet the new federal testing requirements due to lab availability, supply shortages or other reasons until the promised supplies and equipment arrive, state officials said in the letter, “they are instructed to document their attempts to perform and/or obtain testing in accordance with the guidelines.

“This letter is intended to serve as documentation that neither” the State Hygienic Lab, the Iowa Department of Public Health nor county public health departments in Iowa “can provide testing services for surveillance purposes” as outlined under the new federal provision. The State Hygienic Lab “will continue to provide testing support for symptomatic staff and residents, close contacts of cases, and when working with public health and long-term care facilities if positive cases are identified,” the letter added.

In a news release, Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, expressed concern that Reynolds administration officials were informing long-term care facilities they are unable to provide routine testing to prevent outbreaks at the centers at a time when Iowa has 39 such outbreaks with 925 positive cases and 657 of Iowa’s 1,248 COVID-19 deaths have occurred at long-term care facilities.

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“More Iowans will die as a result of this terrible decision,” Brown-Powers said. “Instead of expanding testing to prevent outbreaks and keep Iowans safe, Gov. Reynolds is moving us backward and starting to ration COVID tests used to protect our most vulnerable in nursing homes and those on the front lines.

“More than six months into this pandemic, we should be testing thousands more, not less,” Brown-Powers added. “Iowa is already a world hot spot for COVID, and this change will make it worse. This is a complete failure by the Reynolds and Trump administrations to prevent outbreaks and stop the spread of COVID.”

However, Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the information in the House Democrats’ news release is not accurate, and there will be no decrease in testing.

“The state of Iowa has and will continue to be a leader of testing at our long-term care facilities. IDPH and SHL continue to test in facilities when staff or residents become symptomatic, and when positive cases are identified,” Garett said.

“New federal guidelines requiring routine testing of staff could generate more than 130,000 tests per week in addition to the significant testing that’s already underway,” he said. “The increase will exceed SHL’s capacity and is why the state will need to rely on incoming federal support. As the letter noted, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intends to supply rapid point-of-care diagnostic testing supplies and equipment to long-term care facilities in Iowa.”

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

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