Cedar Rapids doctor is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the low number of COVID-19 patients at Mercy; Test Iowa’s Linn County site continues to underperform

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Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center discussed the situation at the hospital during the Linn County Public Health press conference on Wednesday, May 20. — video still

Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the lower number of COVID-19 patients in the Cedar Rapids hospital.

During Wednesday’s Linn County Public Health press conference, Myers said there are four patients with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit and two of them are on ventilators. During the last several weeks, the hospital had eight to 12 patients in the intensive care unit and four to eight on ventilators, with slight surges.

“Essentially it appears that we have, in effect, protected the health care system’s capacity to care for people,” Myers said. “This was hard, and it was stressful. And I wish I could say it’s over, but it isn’t.”

“I’d like to say that the virus is just going to fade away and die off in the summer — that’s just not true. It’s going to be here. It’s going to make people critically ill, and hopefully, it’s low numbers, like we are seeing.”

Myers said the hospital is aware of the possibility there could be a surge in the virus, but he thinks it’s unlikely the second peak will be worse than when the virus was first confirmed in the county.

National experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have warned about the possibility of a second wave. Linn County officials have also discussed what a second wave might look like.

Part of the reason why a second peak will be more controllable, according to Myers, is because the health care system in the county is in a “stronger position.” The supply lines for personal protective equipment and medications have both stabilized and the hospital understands how to re-deploy staff, space and resources if necessary, Myers added.

Myers also mentioned that testing is faster and there are more options, even though it “still has a ways to go.”

“All of those things together put us in a much stronger position now as compared to before,” Myers said.

While Test Iowa was not mentioned at the press conference, LCPH director Pramod Dwivedi has been giving updates at Board of Supervisors meetings, which are on Mondays and Wednesdays.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Dwivedi said 965 tests have been performed since the Linn County site’s soft opening on Thursday, May 7 to Tuesday, May 19. The only day the site tested more than 200 people was on Monday, May 18.

When Reynolds announced Test Iowa in April, she said the partnership with Nomi Health “will make available 540,000 COVID-19 tests to increase the state’s testing capacity by up to 3,000 additional tests per day. And that’s in addition to what we are already doing.” Reynolds also said “results are returned electronically within 48 to 72 hours” but that hasn’t been the case in Linn County.

Dwivedi said on Wednesday that the department is still experiencing lag time and inconclusive results from the Test Iowa tests. Little Village reported last week that 10 percent of the tests conducted during the site’s first four days of operations were inconclusive. The reason for the inconclusive tests is unclear.

“It is creating problems for us because lag time means we are not following up with our cases in Linn County, and we don’t know what’s going on,” Dwivedi said about LCPH’s inability to conduct contact tracing due to the lack of information. “It’s really an important issue.”

Soldiers with the 294th Medical Company Area Support are at the Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids on May 7, 2020. — National Guard

The Des Moines Register obtained an email sent by LCPH’s Tricia Kitzmann to the Reynolds administration describing the concerns public health and government officials have raised in the last couple of weeks about the county’s Test Iowa site. Kitzmann is the incident commander for the department’s COVID-19 response, and her email was addressed to, among others, Liz Matney, a Reynolds aide; Ken Sharp, a top official at the Iowa Department of Public Health; and Pat Garrett, the governor’s spokesperson.

“This should be a team effort (Federal, State and County) as we try to maximize testing services for our residents,” Kitzmann wrote in the email. “We feel that we are at a disadvantage as the data is not being shared at the county level to allow for a complete testing picture.”

In the email, Kitzmann also asked for access to the number of negative tests, as well as how many people are showing up to appointments compared to how many appointments are scheduled. According to IDPH, nearly 30,000 Linn County residents have completed the Test Iowa assessment.

Linn County has 925 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 73 deaths related to the virus, according to LCPH’s data updated at noon on Thursday. A total of 772 residents have recovered, and 12 residents are currently hospitalized.

LCPH announced at Wednesday’s press conference that they are going to stop holding regular press conferences but will “remain ready to present information as needed.” The press conferences were held daily before transitioning to twice a week and then to once a week.

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