CEDAR RAPIDS — Sandra Colbert doesn’t have internet at her Cedar Rapids home and makes calls from a flip phone. At 74 years old, she doesn’t see a reason to go online.
If she needed to use a computer before the coronavirus pandemic, she would go to the Cedar Rapids Public Library and get help.
With the governor’s office encouraging Iowans to log on to Test Iowa at testiowa.com to assess their risk for the coronavirus and possibly qualify for testing, Colbert is frustrated.
“Not everyone has access to that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s by choice. (Computers) cost money. Our governor makes it sound so easy to get on a computer, but it isn’t.”
As of Friday, 410,628 people — about 7.4 percent of the population — had completed the Test Iowa assessment. While that number is growing, gaps persist — including among older Iowans who may not have internet access yet who are most vulnerable to symptoms of the COVID-19 disease.
Of people who completed the assessment, 2 percent were under the age of 18, 32 percent were between 18 and 40, 38 percent were between 41 and 60 and only 2 percent were over 80.
Pat Garrett, spokesman for the governor’s office, said Iowans who can’t take the assessment online should call someone to fill it out for them.
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The Test Iowa website, at testiowa.com, says the assessment can be taken by computer, tablet or smartphone. Those without internet service should ask a trusted relative or friend with internet access to assist them.
But local officials don’t believe that has been communicated well to the public.
“There’s a lot of citizens that don’t have access to broadband service,” Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said. “The way to access Test Iowa presumes you have internet service.
“You’re probably going to be told ‘no,’ but you’re going to be told no fast in town. You’re told ‘no’ slow in rural areas because you can’t get access.”
Although there can be stark differences in internet access between counties, on average the percentage of Iowans in both rural and urban settings are about the same. Of Iowa’s 78 counties labeled as rural by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, nearly 9 percent of the population in those counties had taken the Test Iowa assessment, The Gazette found. A slight lower percentage of the population — about 7 percent — had taken the assessment in the more urban counties.
Test Iowa is an initiative launched April 21 by Gov. Kim Reynolds “to conduct large-scale assessment, and testing is critical to understand how prevalent this disease is and how it’s evolving.”
Since then, eight Test Iowa sites have been established across the state in Linn, Polk, Black Hawk, Woodbury, Crawford, Wapello and Buena Vista counties. The sites initially were open to essential workers — such as health care workers and first responders — only, but the Governor’s Office said last week they will begin easing qualifications to make testing more available.
Last year, Reynolds requested $20 million to expand rural broadband internet access as a part of her Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, Garrett said. In the meantime, the Governor’s Office is working with local employers to get their employees tested, he said.
Both the assessment and the test are free.
Testing doesn’t tell your future
AARP Iowa State Director Brad Anderson said while not everyone has a computer, there are other ways to get approved for a test.
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“Older Iowans who are unable to take the online assessment should follow (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, which state that if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, they should contact their health care provider,” he said.
Iowa’s hotline for questions about the coronavirus, which can be reached by dialing 211, has been “a terrific resource during this pandemic,” Anderson said.
Lynn Millard, 88, of Marion, has internet at his home but recently gave his computer away to the American Legion Post in Central City, of which he has been a member for almost 40 years.
Since Test Iowa launched last month, he’s been wondering how to take the assessment.
“I know there’s a lot of old people who don’t have internet in the house and they’re not computer literate,” Millard said. “I don’t give a hoot, but it bothered me to assume (the online assessment) is the logical answer.”
While Millard, a retired high school science teacher who taught for 33 years, said testing for the coronavirus is important, “it doesn’t tell you a darn thing about what happens tomorrow.”
“Testing only tells you about your history, not about your future,” he said. “I’m no epidemiologist, but I think the only thing that’s going to count is if they come up with a vaccine and get it to those who are most susceptible.”
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