A total of 334 tests were conducted at Linn County’s Test Iowa site in the first four days it was operational, but at least 10 percent of those tests are inconclusive, county officials said at Wednesday’s Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The site in Linn County isn’t the only Test Iowa location where there have been problems with testing. On May 7 — the same day the Linn County site opened in Cedar Rapids — the Des Moines Register reported that an unknown number of Test Iowa test kits can’t be processed because they were damaged. The validation process for the tests, which is being conducted by the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa, has not been completed yet.
The test kits used at Test Iowa sites are provided by Nomi Health, a Utah-based tech company Gov. Kim Reynolds awarded a $26 million no-bid contract to administer the testing program. Questions about the test kits have also been raised in Utah.
The reason why Linn County’s tests were inconclusive is unclear.
“What I think we’re left trying to figure out is if it is the case that the integrity of the test itself is compromised, if there’s an issue with how it is being administered, which we don’t know because we’re not involved in Test Iowa process, if there’s an issue of what happens to the test with how it’s stored or how it’s transported,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “We don’t know where the issue is.”
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.
“We’re starting to get results in, I think last night, for the first batch of results from Test Iowa we got in, so that’s five, six days,” Walker said. “That’s a very long time in between when these tests were administered for our Linn County Public Health professionals to start acting on it and begin contact tracing.”
During the meeting, Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi shared how many tests have been completed each day at the Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids:
Thursday, May 7: 67 tests
Friday, May 8: 59 tests
Monday, May 11: 119 tests
Tuesday, May 12: 89 tests
As of Wednesday, May 13, the Cedar Rapids site is one of seven Test Iowa locations open across the state. For the Test Iowa sites to be meeting a goal of 3,000 per day, each of those sites would need to be conducting at least 429 tests.
During Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Walker said the most a Test Iowa site has achieved, to his knowledge, is 350 in Polk County.
“And I don’t think we’ve been anywhere close to those numbers in any of the other test Iowa sites,” he added.
In addition to the tests coming back inconclusive, LCPH is also having difficulty getting the results of how many individuals have tested positive, according to Dwivedi. Public health and government officials have previously expressed the lack of communication from the state.
“Public health is a really team sport,” Dwivedi said. “We must work together locally, state and federal, and that’s kind of breaking down here. It’s very sad.”
Most county buildings remain closed through June 15
The three supervisors voted on Wednesday to extend the closure of most county facilities to the general public through June 15.
The buildings that remain closed include:
• Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center
• Community Services Building – including Options of Linn County
• Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building – with the exception of the Child Development Center as the Iowa Department of Human Services is not recommending closure of childcare facilities at this time
• Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services
• Secondary Road Department
• Wickiup Hill Learning Center
• Linn County Sheriff’s Office; the Civil Division will continue to serve legal processes and the Patrol Division will continue to respond to emergency and routine calls for service.
• LIFTS – office is closed to the public; however, routes are still running for essential needs. Fares are waived and the number of riders will be limited during each route.
Supervisor Brent Oleson said that the opening date can be modified.
“We can change this at any time,” Oleson said. “This doesn’t mean that it’s decided we’re for sure going to open on June 15. We could potentially open earlier. We could potentially open later.”
Even though facilities will remain closed for now, discussions have begun about what it will look like when county buildings begin to reopen. Plexiglass barriers and signs on the floor are being installed in county buildings. There will also be a security guard present at the Harris building, Public Service building and the Community Services building for at least three months after reopening.
During Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Ben Rogers said the board should “strongly consider” requiring employees and members of the public to wear a face mask of their own or one that is provided by the county. Linn County has ordered 2,000 masks for employees and 5,000 for the public, for now.
“It’s safe to say that we want to open up safely and not all in just one shot,” Olsen said. “When we say opening up, that doesn’t mean we’re going back to business as it was in February. That’s not what’s going to happen.”