CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State Hygienic Lab expects more COVID-19 test kits today

Iowa, Iowa State call off additional study abroad programs

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa-based State Hygienic Lab has about 250 test kits for the spreading coronavirus and was expecting more, the lab director told reporters Wednesday.

“So I’m not concerned about the need at this time,” Michael Pentella said during a panel discussion about the local response to the virus known as COVID-19. “I think we have the resources that we need.”

The state so far has checked eight suspected cases, with seven coming back negative and one result pending.

“We are committed to doing the test whenever it’s needed,” Pentella said, explaining the virus requires a “special molecular test” for detection that can take about five hours to perform.

At this point, according to Pentella, the lab is communicating with health care facilities across the state and is prepared to take specimens from patients anywhere in Iowa. The lab — like others across the country — experienced delays in getting the testing materials for the virus that to date has killed more than 3,000 and spread to more than 70 countries, including the United States.

No cases have been confirmed in Iowa.

UI Hospitals feel ‘Completely prepared’

UI Health Care, in conjunction with the state health department and lab, has deployed a “robust” plan involving its bio-emergency response team, according to UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan.

That team has “allowed us to be completely prepared,” she said, acknowledging the “disease is changing rapidly, and so that is a challenge for all of us.”

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But, Brennan said, the UIHC team is thinking “three or four steps down the road to make sure that we’re covering everything that we could.”

Although testing currently is handled by the state lab in Coralville, UIHC has reported, “Most large hospitals will eventually be able to test using commercially available testing platforms.” But the timing of that depends on the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies.

UI nixes Japan study abroad program

UIHC has been working closely with UI Student Health, which in turn has been collaborating with UI International Programs as it cancels a growing number of study abroad experiences and collaborations and works to relocate more than 120 affected students.

Most were studying in Italy. The campus — along with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa — also canceled programming in China and South Korea. And on Wednesday, the UI added Japan to the list.

That cancellation affects five UI students — three of whom hadn’t left yet. One UI student from China scheduled to study in Japan remains in Beijing, and just one UI student is actually in Japan on a yearlong program.

“Unfortunately we’re asking him to come home, and we need to figure out what his academic program will look like moving forward,” said Russell Ganim, dean of the university’s International Programs.

Similar academic scrambling is happening for all the affected students, who have been offered a handful of options — depending on their programs — aimed at allowing them to complete their coursework and earn their spring credits, as planned.

Despite the cancellations, the UI still has about 300 students studying abroad in less-affected countries, with another 91 about to embark over spring break.

Although some of those in canceled programs might return to campus, Ganim didn’t provide a specific number. And, he said, most are not from Iowa City and therefore aren’t coming here — but rather returning to their homes.

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ISU announced new cancellations Wednesday of sponsored spring break programs in Europe, Asia and Africa due to the outbreak.

The suspension is affecting about 95 students who hadn’t yet left.

The campus continues to evaluate planned spring break trips to Central America, South America, Canada and Australia, according to a Wednesday update.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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