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‘It has been three weeks,’ Gov. Reynolds defends Test Iowa’s performance, announces its tests have now been validated

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Gov. Reynolds steps down from the podium at her May 14 press conference. — video still

The State Hygienic Laboratory has finished its validation of Test Iowa’s equipment, Gov. Reynolds announced at her press conference on Thursday. According to the governor, the Test Iowa processing equipment were 95 percent accurate when determining if a sample was positive, and 99.7 accurate when determining if a sample was negative.

As part of the no-bid $26 million contract Reynolds awarded Nomi Health last month, the Utah-based tech company will provide Iowa with 540,000 test kits — delivered in installments over a six-month period — and has provided 10 machines to process the kits. The company has also set up Test Iowa’s assessment website and is providing information management services. The test samples are collected by workers hired by the state, and State Hygienic Lab staff operate the machines processing the tests and analyze the results.

“As you’ve heard at the national level, from the Coronavirus Task Force, increasing testing and contact tracing is strongly recommended to effectively track virus activity and manage it, as states begin to reopen businesses and ease some of their restrictions,” Reynolds said, reading from her prepared remarks at the press conference.

The governor said now that Test Iowa’s equipment has been validated, testing would expand in the state and the improvement would be made to the program.

“For those Iowans who have reached out to tell us we’ve fallen short of meeting their expectations, we hear you,” Reynolds said during her prepared remarks. “Now that the lab has completed the validation process, we expect more tests will be processed more quickly and your results will be delivered on a timely basis.”

The National Guard assists Test Iowa operations in Cedar Rapids, May 7, 2020. — National Guard

On Wednesday, the director of the Linn County Health Department said 10 percent of the tests during the first four days of operation for the Cedar Rapids Test Iowa site produced inconclusive results. The Des Moines Register has reported that an unknown number of Test Iowa test kits were damaged and could not be processed. There are also reports that only a very limited number of tests have been conducted at the sites in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, and that some people are still waiting on the results of tests more than two weeks after samples were taken.

While reading from her prepared remarks, Reynolds acknowledged Test Iowa was not yet performing in the way she described when she first announced it on April 21, but when reporters began asking question about Test Iowa, the governor dismissed criticism of the program.

Asked if she was satisfied with how Test Iowa is performing given that it is not remotely close to conducting the 3,000 tests a day Reynolds has said it will, the governor insisted it was too soon to assess how the program is doing.

“It has been three weeks,” Reynolds said. “It has been three weeks since we literally announced that we partnered with not only Nomi Health, but the State Hygienic Lab.” (The State Hygienic Lab has been conducting tests since COVID-19 was first detected in the state on March 8.)

The governor said it has been “a great partnership” and “we’re moving in the right direction.”

“It takes some time to ramp up,” Reynolds said. “Now that we have it validated, I think you’re really going to continue to see us be able to build out what we have the capacity to do with bringing them onboard.”

Reynolds was also asked if she would have the Iowa Department of Public Health report Test Iowa results separately, so it would be possible to track the programs’s progress, and determine if it is overcoming the problems it has had so far.

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“Don’t Iowans deserve to know what the $26 million is getting them?” the reporter asked.

“I think I’ve laid out pretty significantly what that has brought us,” Reynolds said.

The governor pointed out that the $26 million paid to Nomi Health came from federal government funds provided to the state as part of the CARES Act.

“And the few things that you mentioned, whether it was tests that were spoiled or whether is inconclusive tests, those things are not unique to Test Iowa,” Reynolds said. “That happens with any testing process. Even through the State Hygienic Lab, who’s done a phenomenal job.”

“We sent some tests [from the State Hygienic Lab] down to southwest Iowa. We had unfortunately 200 samples that were spoiled and we had to retest,” the governor said in an attempt to be reassuring.

Reynolds said the Test Iowa results would not be reported separately, and would be included with all the other results reported on a daily basis.

On Thursday, IDPH reported another 386 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including four residents of Johnson County and 13 residents of Linn County. According to IDPH, a total of 13,675 people have now tested positive in the state.

The department also reported outbreaks of COVID-19 at two more long-term care facilities.

The Iowa Department of Corrections updated its COVID-19 information page on Thursday. A third staff member at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchelville has tested positive for the virus. No inmates at the prison have tested positive yet.

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported at three other Iowa prisons.

A staff member at the Newton Correctional Facility has tested positive, as have a staff member and an inmate at the Clarinda Correctional Facility, and nine staff members and 20 inmates at Oakdale Prison in Coralville.

Twelve more Iowans have died from COVID-19, IDPH reported on Thursday. Two of the deceased were residents of Linn County.

The state’s death toll from the virus now stands at 318.


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