Record number of Iowans test positive for COVID; Gov. Reynolds says cases are undercounted, but doesn’t think state needs to reopen test sites

Jason Smith/Little Village

In its weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported the highest number of new cases of the virus during a seven-day period since the first cases were discovered in the state in March 2020. According to IDPH, another 38,574 Iowans tested positive from Jan. 12-18.

But in an interview with KCCI on Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it was unlikely that the record high number IDPH published reflects the full extent of COVID-19 spread in Iowa, because the department doesn’t include results from at-home testing.

The state switched to providing at-home tests when it closed the last of the Test Iowa drive-through testing sites in July 2021. At that time, the number of new cases reported in the state was starting to increase; in its weekly update after the closing of the last Test Iowa sites on July 23, the department reported 2,158, which is 5.6 percent of the total it reported this week.

The governor was asked during her KCCI interview about whether “it was time to open back up those Test Iowa test sites so the [testing] process moves faster,” given the Omicron-fueled surge in virus spread and the high demand for testing.

“I think they’re doing it, we’re doing it, the president’s doing it,” Reynolds replied. “It’s happening at the local level, it’s happening at the state level. And now it’s, I think, going to happen at the federal level. So I think everybody’s doing their part.

“But as I said earlier, you know, we’ve made ‘em available. We’ve been doing this for six months. It isn’t anything new that we just started. We had the infrastructure in place.”

Despite the assurances of “we’re doing it” and “it’s happening at the state level” in the governor’s reply, she did not mean Test Iowa sites will reopen. She was referring to the state providing at-home testing kits to local public health departments. Reynolds was referring to the new federal government website for ordering rapid COVID-19 tests when she said “the president’s doing it.” But the “they’re doing it” did refer to drive-through COVID-19 testing in Polk County.

Polk County has set up a drive-through testing site run by Wellhealth Works and Health Track RX in Des Moines, and Des Moines Public Schools has two drive-through testing sites that are run by Nomi Health, one of the Utah-based companies behind Test Iowa. This week, the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) opened a drive-through testing site at Liberty High School in partnership with Nomi. The company also operates a drive-through test site in Council Bluffs. Those four sites are currently the only drive-through COVID-19 testing sites in the state. They are open to the public and there are no out-of-pocket costs for anyone who wants a test, but those who have medical insurance are asked to bring their insurance cards.

ICCSD said in a statement it plans to open two more testing sites in the district. Johnson County is also planning to open a COVID-19 testing site to be run by Nomi in Iowa City.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote during its formal meeting Thursday on a contract with Nomi to run the testing site through May, but had to defer the vote, because the county attorney’s office had not yet received confirmation from the company that it is ready to open the site.

During the supervisors’ work session on Wednesday, Assistant County Attorney Susan Nehring told the board that Nomi “is running into some issues regarding staffing shortages and it may take a little longer for them to get their test sites implemented than they had originally anticipated.”

Also during the Wednesday work session, Johnson County Public Health Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis told the supervisors there were about 2,800 new cases of COVID-19 in the county during the previous week, which he said “is just beyond what we’ve ever seen.”

Statewide, it wasn’t just new cases that increased in IDPH’s latest update — the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also increased from 923 to 991. The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s long-term care facilities also jumped from 41 to 63, an increase of 52 percent.

The department also disclosed another 116 deaths from the virus in its Wednesday update. The newly reported deaths brought the state’s official COVID-19 death toll to 8,317.

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