Staff Editorial

Iowa is getting worse at testing, not better

Signs are posted at the entrance at the Test Iowa coronavirus testing site at the Kirkwood Community College Continuing
Signs are posted at the entrance at the Test Iowa coronavirus testing site at the Kirkwood Community College Continuing Education Training Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, May 28, 2020. Those wishing to be tested are required to show a QR code in order to enter. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

We are five months into a pandemic and we should be getting better at testing for the virus, not worse. But in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds is leaning heavily on Test Iowa, a public-private partnership, to expand testing. But Test Iowa is holding up just as well as a drunk man’s ability to social distance.

For weeks, Iowans have been reporting frustration with finding testing times. In response to those questions, Amy McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Health, told me that testing sites have been overwhelmed and that the governor was looking into expanding testing sites. But she provided no further details on where or when the expansion would occur.

Instead, on Monday, the Test Iowa site in Dubuque County announced it was limiting testing to 100 tests per day.

Pat Garrett, the governor’s spokesman, who has bragged on Twitter about the governor’s transparency, didn’t respond to my questions about the cutback, but he did respond to Iowa News Now, stating: “We requested this temporary change to ensure their process is in line with others across the state of Iowa. We want to maintain consistency and high-quality performance across all Test Iowa sites.”

That sounds like an answer, but isn’t. Instead, it raises more questions, such as, was it not “high quality” before? And if so, how and why? I contacted both Dubuque County and Epic Wellness, the site contracted out through Test Iowa to conduct testing, but received no further clarity.

This comes after a weekend where a testing backlog delayed reporting of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The backlog was, according to McCoy, because of a data-reporting error, but she again offered no further clarity on what that error was or how it’s being resolved. Despite the lack of testing, it’s still easier to get a COVID-19 test than an answer about Iowa’s pandemic response from the governor’s office.

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Last week, an audit of Test Iowa’s reporting process deemed it illegal because it violated the state guidelines for immediate reporting of test results.

In the audit, Iowa’s state auditor reported that Test Iowa reports test results to data companies in Utah before reporting them to the state. The audit found, “The reporting chain for Test Iowa results is contrary to law, takes apparently pointless risks, and exposes taxpayers to potential legal liabilities.”

The audit also found that there have been widespread issues with equipment problems, reporting delays and, of course, don’t forget the problem with unusable tests. All while cases are surging, spiking, roiling, boiling overwhelming our state and our nation.

Reynolds repeatedly has said that she’s been opening testing sites based on “data” but Dubuque County is a hot spot for COVID-19 cases in the nation, which would mean we need more testing, not less. But hey, bars and theme parks are open.

And Reynolds is trusting Iowans to “do the right thing.”

The whole experience of living in Iowa and America in this moment feels like being on the Hindenburg and being blamed it’s sinking because you aren’t flapping your arms hard enough to fly.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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