CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa Health Care to start its own COVID-19 testing

Starting Friday, UIHC testing aims for more capacity, flexibility

University of Iowa Health Care complex, which houses University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is seen in this photo tak
University of Iowa Health Care complex, which houses University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is seen in this photo taken on Friday, April 18, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Starting Friday, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will start testing for COVID-19 in its own laboratory — giving the health care facility more capacity and flexibility over who gets tested.

The UIHC clinical microbiology laboratory will conduct the tests, which still require physicians ordering them to select from a list of stringent reasons as the nation still faces a testing capacity shortage.

“If your patient does not fall into one of the above categories but you have clinical suspicion for COVID-19, you will still be allowed to place the order,” according to a message Tuesday to UIHC physicians.

“However, in the event of a testing shortage the test may be canceled or may have a longer turnaround time,” it said. ”We must prioritize testing to those for whom test results will have the greatest impact.”

Testing in Iowa previously was done through government-provided or approved tests out of the UI-based State Hygienic Lab in Coralville.

Federal testing criteria have been limited to patients who have fever and respiratory symptoms and have either visited a high-risk country recently; had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient; are over age 60 and chronic medical conditions; or hospitalized with no alternative diagnosis.

Although UIHC testing could provide more flexibility, its physicians ordering COVID-19 tests still must select from among these categories for patients they believe warrant in-house testing:

• Hospitalized patients with fever and respiratory failure and no alternate diagnosis;

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• Adults over 60 with fever and respiratory symptoms and chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, immunosuppressive medications, chronic lung disease or chronic kidney disease;

• People with fever or respiratory illness who live in congregate setting, like long-term care facilities, dormitories, residential facilities, correctional facilities or treatment facilities;

• And essential services personnel with fever or respiratory illness — including health care providers, fire and emergency medical service workers, law enforcement officers and residential facility staff.

“Importantly, you no longer need to contact epidemiology to get approval for testing,” according to the UIHC message, which also stressed testing methods might change over time due to the continuing shortages of testing materials.

Access to testing has been a point of contention and around the world as communities and countries attempt to assess the size of the problem and scale their response accordingly.

In the United States, the areas reporting more cases often are conducting more testing — like in Colorado, one of the first to offer drive-up testing. That state, as of Tuesday afternoon, reported 720 positive cases and more than 6,200 people tested.

New York, now the epicenter of this country’s COVID-19 outbreak with more than 25,600 cases as of Tuesday, has been approved for manual, semi-manual and automated testing — which officials expect will ramp up testing capacity to about 6,000 tests a day.

That state now has six drive-through testing sites — with just one, for example, testing more than 1,000 people a day.

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

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