Test Iowa's contractor discouraging some from seeking COVID-19 tests

A company hired to ramp up Iowa’s capacity to test for novel coronavirus has been sending messages to sick Iowans that could discourage them from seeking a COVID-19 test.

Some people who reported respiratory symptoms when completing the Test Iowa online assessment, but did not qualify for an appointment at a drive-through site, received a message warning that COVID-19 testing “is quite invasive and uncomfortable” and that tests should be reserved “for those who need it the most.”

Neither Nomi Health nor state officials have clarified whether the Iowa Department of Public Health helped write or approved the wording.

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Iowa governor didn't isolate after trip, wear mask at events with VP

The gaslighting was strong during Governor Kim Reynolds’ White House meeting on May 6 and Vice President Mike Pence’s Iowa visit two days later. Pence described Iowa as a COVID-19 “success story” on Wednesday. He elaborated in West Des Moines on May 8,

“Iowa has been leading the way with Governor Kim Reynolds […] From very early on, the strong steps and mitigation efforts have made a difference here. We grieve the loss of life here in Iowa, but the numbers speak for themselves. The outbreak in Iowa has not been like we’ve seen in other states and other metropolitan areas around the country. It’s a tribute to your early, strong steps.”

Meanwhile, Sioux City still tops a national list of “metro areas with the most recent cases and deaths, relative to their population, in the last two weeks.” Waterloo/Cedar Falls is fourth. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly in several smaller counties where Reynolds lifted restrictions on some business activities last week.

But that’s a topic for another day.

I was struck by Reynolds’ failure this week to follow best practices for slowing the spread of the virus.

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Iowa governor's COVID-19 strategy more faith-based than data-driven

For weeks, Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters at her daily news conferences that “data” and “metrics” informed her approach to slowing the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iowa.

That narrative flew out the window on April 27, when she unveiled her plan to lift some mitigation measures statewide and allow many kinds of businesses to reopen in 77 Iowa counties, effective May 1.

Reynolds and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director and epidemiologist, sought to spin the new policy as “evidence-based.” In reality, they are betting Iowans’ lives on the potential for data collection that has barely begun.

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The Iowa COVID-19 peak that wasn't

Three weeks ago today, Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter told reporters our state’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections might hit “a first peak in the next two to three weeks.” But Iowa has racked up more confirmed cases and deaths attributed to COVID-19 during the past three days than in any previous three-day period. Outbreaks continue to be identified in long-term care facilities and meatpacking plants, where one infected person can pass the virus to many others.

Governor Kim Reynolds imposed stricter limits on socializing outside the household in fourteen northeast Iowa counties on April 16. The next day, she ordered all schools in the state to remain closed through the remainder of this academic year. But even as the governor encouraged Iowans to stay home if they can, she asserted on April 17 that “there are a lot of really positive signs” and suggested officials may be ready to start opening things up in parts of the state soon.

Meanwhile, the country’s most widely-cited model for COVID-19 now projects that use of hospital resources and coronavirus deaths in Iowa will peak on May 7 and 8, respectively. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington also indicates that “relaxing social distancing may be possible” in Iowa after June 29. By comparison, the same model projects that the states of Washington and California already passed their peak for deaths and hospital resource use and may be able to scale down mandatory social distancing on May 18.

Why hasn’t Iowa turned the corner?

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