CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa to test all inpatients for coronavirus

'We know that some patients with COVID-19 are asymptomatic'

Medical assistant Katrina Rogers opens a biohazard bag used to seal coronavirus test swab specimens at a temporary pre-p
Medical assistant Katrina Rogers opens a biohazard bag used to seal coronavirus test swab specimens at a temporary pre-procedure screening facility at the Family Medicine Clinic of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Beginning Thursday, all patients admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will be tested for COVID-19 — marking an expansion from the campus’ previous protocol to test only symptomatic inpatients.

The UIHC inpatient test expansion follows a statewide testing ramp up and opening to anyone who wants one — with more than 197,000 total Iowans tested to date, including 22,182 confirmed positive cases.

Previously, UIHC screened all inpatients upon admittance — checking temperatures and asking about symptoms and COVID-19 contacts — but it only ran tests on those with coronavirus symptoms, like cough, fever, and other respiratory concerns.

“Our newly expanded testing capabilities will now require testing of all admissions, including both asymptomatic and symptomatic inpatients,” according to a UIHC news bulletin.

The change will apply to both adult and pediatric inpatients “to ensure safety for our employees, patients, and the community.”

As of Monday, UIHC had treated a total of 229 COVID-19 inpatients to date, with 13 current coronavirus patients in the hospital. A total of 93 UIHC employees have reported acquiring COVID-19 over the duration of the pandemic, although hospital administrators don’t believe any became infected while treating a UIHC patient.

Among the reasons UIHC is expanding testing to all inpatients is the understanding some infected with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms.

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“We know that some patients with COVID-19 are asymptomatic,” UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said in a statement. “Testing everyone who is admitted to our facilities will identify patients who have the diagnosis and don’t know it, so that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“This is the right thing to do for our patients,” she said. “We are implementing universal testing for all inpatients to protect the health and safety of every patient and staff member.”

The inpatient test will be administered where the individual is admitted — although anyone coming through the emergency room will be tested there. And patients with a known positive test won’t be retested at UIHC.

Patients will be moved to a designated room while they wait for results, expected back within at least eight hours. Positive patients will be placed in the campus’ isolated COVID-19 unit, which has additional safety measures to prevent the virus’ spread.

Anyone who’s had contact with a positive patient will be informed of the potential exposure and “appropriate education and placement of the patient will follow.”

UIHC officials said the testing change “builds on our current safety measures,” which include face covering mandates, universal employee face shield use, social distancing, hospital and clinic entrance screenings, hand hygiene, and constant cleaning and disinfecting.

The goal, according to UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran, “is to become one of the safest places in the state of Iowa.”

“We have led the way at implementing safety measures at scale — face coverings for all who enter our facilities, screenings at all entrances, and much more — but we don’t want to stop there,” he said in a statement. “Universal testing of all inpatients, regardless of symptoms, will allow us to continue safely caring for all patients’ health care needs.”

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The university still is not providing COVID-19 testing for any outpatient or member of the public who wants it. Those not admitted to the hospital are tested when they present with symptoms or have been in close contact with a confirmed case.

The state’s Test Iowa program now has 10 drive-up sites and six clinics where anyone can be tested — regardless of contacts or symptoms. But individuals must first fill out an online assessment and make an appointment.

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

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.