Two lawmakers call for an oversight committee investigation of Test Iowa, as the Iowa legislature prepares to reconvene

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

When the Iowa legislature reconvenes this week, the House of Representatives’ Government Oversight Committee will have to consider a request from two lawmakers to investigate Test Iowa.

The legislature suspended its 2020 session on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers will return to the capitol on Wednesday, June 3 to complete work left unfinished, including the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

In a letter to the committee, Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, and Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, ask for a review of the testing program created in April, while the legislature was in recess. Gov. Kim Reynolds awarded a $26 million no-bid contract for testing to Nomi Health, a Utah tech company that only had a few weeks of experience running a testing program. Reynolds did not consider any other companies or institutions to provide extra testing in the state, according to her spokesperson.

Hall and Gaines said Iowans “deserve to know whether their money is being spent wisely,” following reports of problems scheduling tests, long waits for test results and questions about the accuracy of the test kits Test Iowa is supplying as part of its contract.

Nomi Health had only been running Test Utah, its first testing program, for approximately three week when Reynolds announced Test Iowa during a press conference. Actor Ashton Kutcher told Reynolds about Test Utah during a phone conversation in which the governor was asking Kutcher to narrate a PSA. According to Kutcher’s publicist, the Cedar Rapids-born actor is “good friends” with the CEO of one of the companies Nomi Health uses as a subcontractor in its testing programs.

Following Reynolds’ lead, Pete Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska, awarded Nomi Health a $27 million no-bid contract to create Test Nebraska. That program has been criticized for failing to provide important information — including contact information for people who test positive — to local public health officials. Managers of testing labs not associated with Test Nebraska complained to Ricketts earlier this month that Test Nebraska was making it more difficult for their labs to get necessary supplies.

In Utah, the accuracy of the test kits Test Utah uses has been questioned because the program has consistently produced “an unusually low number of positive results” compared to other COVID-19 testing efforts in the state, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

“If the Government Oversight Committee is unwilling to do its job, House Democrats will seek to review the contract and its implementation during the appropriations process,” Hall and Gaines said in their letter. “We trust what Iowans and local officials are communicating about their experiences with Test Iowa. If Iowans can’t get the answers they deserve regarding Test Iowa, it may be time to cancel the contract.”

Reynolds has described the testing capacity provided by Test Iowa as central to her effort to reopen Iowa.

On Sunday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 349 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, including six residents of Linn County and one resident of Johnson County. As of 10 a.m. on Sunday, the total number of Iowans who have tested positive for the virus was 19,484.

IDPH also reported another six people have died from COVID-19. Among the deceased was a resident of Linn County.

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