A tip from Ashton Kutcher led to $26 million Test Iowa contract, Reynolds says

Gov. Kim Reynolds, April 23 press conference;; Ashton Kutcher takes the #TestIowaChallenge on Twitter

The process that led to a Utah-based tech company, Nomi Health, being awarded a no-bid $26 million contract for Iowa’s new COVID-19 testing program started with a suggestion from Ashton Kutcher, Gov. Kim Reynolds explained at her press conference on Thursday.

Reynolds said the suggestion came during a phone call to the Cedar Rapids-born actor to ask him to do a public service announcement. While they were speaking, Kutcher, who Reynolds has described as a friend, told her about the Test Utah initiative developed by Nomi Health.

According to Reynolds, Kutcher said he thought Test Utah “looked very promising.”

“He knew one of the individuals that had been working on that,” Reynolds said. “Was a friend of his — or just a colleague, and knew him. [sic] So, he said, ‘If you’d like, I’d be happy to connect the two of you.'”

It wasn’t the first time Kutcher had recommended Test Utah.

He tweeted about it two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced that the Utah Department of Health would be launching the program, administered by Nomi Health. Kutcher quote-tweeted the CEO of one of Nomi Health’s subcontractors for Test Utah (and now Test Iowa).

Although he’s best known for his TV and film roles, in recent years, Kutcher has become a prominent venture capital investor, especially in tech companies. In 2011, this led to controversy when Kutcher promoted several tech companies without revealing his investments while serving as guest editor of an online edition of Details magazine.

Reynolds said she also spoke to Gov. Herbert about Test Utah before deciding to hire Nomi Health. A spokesperson for Reynolds told Iowa Capital Dispatch on Wednesday that no other companies were considered before the contract was awarded.

The governor was asked on Thursday why she didn’t consider other companies. Reynolds’ reply did not answer the question.

“[W]hen I learned about the opportunity to have access to significant tests, and most importantly, the assessment piece that was tied to it, which is extremely beneficial as we start to open things back up and continue to manage the virus as we work through the summer and into the fall to continue to work with Iowans and have them help be a part of our solution in monitoring the virus going forward, I was very intrigued with the capability that it provided,” she said.

During her press conference, Reynolds also addressed some of problems people have had using the Test Iowa site, including how Iowans who don’t have internet access can get tested through the program. On Wednesday, the governor said people without internet access should either call the state’s COVID-19 information line, 211, or her office to take the Test Iowa health assessment. On Thursday, that changed.

The governor said, “those who don’t have internet access to take the online assessment, we recommend asking a family member or trusted friend with a computer, tablet or smartphone to help you. If you qualify for testing, you will need to schedule your appointment online and your QR code for check-in and test results will all be sent to you by email as well.”

There is another accessibility issue with Test Iowa that did not come up at the press conference: the information on the assessment website is only available in English.

Little Village emailed the Iowa Department of Public Health to ask if there are plans to make Test Iowa available in Spanish or other languages. An IDPH spokesperson said she was sharing the question with the governor’s office. Neither IDPH nor the governor’s office have provided an answer to the question yet.

On Thursday, IDPH reported another 176 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, including 10 residents of Linn County. It’s unclear if any residents of Johnson County tested positive, because IDPH’s current status map listed 391 cases in Johnson County on Thursday, which is five fewer cases than the map listed on Wednesday, and for the second day in a row, the department has not published a county-by-county breakdown of new cases.

Little Village emailed IDPH to ask about the discrepancy in the Johnson County numbers, and how many residents tested positive in the most recent reporting period.

IDPH did not offer any information about Johnson County in its two-sentence reply: “Cases are reported upon receipt of a positive lab and prior to case investigation. Under certain circumstances case counts can vary from day to day as investigations begin such as county reassignment or the finding and elimination of duplicate cases.”

IDPH also reported six more deaths from COVID-19.

• Bremer County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Muscatine County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Polk County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 3 elderly adults (81+)

The new deaths bring the state’s total to 96.

A COVID-19 outbreak at ManorCare Health Service, a nursing home in Cedar Rapids, was reported on Thursday, bringing the total number of outbreaks in Iowa’s long-term care facilities to 12.

Reynolds began her press conference on Thursday by saying, “For several weeks, I’ve started my press conferences with an update on the numbers. And today, I would like to provide a different perspective on the current status.”

The first new statistic the governor cited in the spirit of a new perspective was related to COVID-19 test results.

“Of the 29,262 Iowans who have been tested for COVID-19, 13 percent have tested positive compared to a national rate of 18.4 percent, as reported by the CDC,” Reynolds said.

It’s unclear what significance the governor finds in that comparison given how limited testing has been in Iowa, and Reynolds did not explain why she wanted to feature it. The number of Iowans tested so far constitute less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

Reynolds then repeated several statistics IDPH publishes daily on its website.

There was one other new statistic the governor mentioned.

“As of yesterday, 11 of 99 Iowa’s counties accounted for 81 percent of all COVID-19 cases,” she said.

Again, the governor did not explain why she chose that statistic. The governor also did not mention those counties account for 44 percent of the state’s population.

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