The Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building houses Linn County Public Health at 1020 Sixth St. SE in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish

Test Iowa COVID-19 results to Linn County Public Health are on a more timely track after  lengthy delays from the initiative’s outset.

Tricia Kitzmann, Community Health Division Manager for Linn County Public Health, said the department is currently receiving positive COVID-19 results from the Iowa Department of Public Health within three to five days.

“We are now receiving COVID-19 test results for positive, negative and inconclusive test results,” Kitzmann said in an email. “Prior, there were delays from anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks, or not received at all.”

Test Iowa, the $26 million, no-bid contract with a Utah partnership, was suggested to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds by actor Ashton Kutcher. The governor has since championed the initiative, including during her June 4 press conference.

While Reynolds has said Test Iowa would be able to perform 3,000 tests per day, she acknowledged that the highest number has been 2,356, but quickly added that 3,000 is the state’s capacity.

“That was never a promise or a guarantee,” she said.

Kitzmann sent a letter to state officials explaining her concerns in late May.

At that point, Linn County reported receiving only 20 of 823 Test Iowa results, with 16 of those results categorized as “inconclusive.”

The delay in receiving test results, as well as the high number of “inconclusive” results, put the county at a disadvantage for follow-up and contact tracing, Kitzmann noted.

More: See the full letter from Linn County Public Health

Reynolds has touted the Test Iowa Initiative since its inception in April, citing the ability to test and perform contact tracing as important factors in her decision to allow businesses to reopen throughout the state, even as she has acknowledged that coronavirus “is still in substantial spread” in Iowa.

As of Thursday, June 4, 2020, Iowa reported 20,706 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up 696 from Wednesday at 11 a.m., one of the state’s highest single-day totals after a record 757 positive cases on May 2. Totals on the state’s coronavirus website are now updated throughout the day, so numbers vary, depending on the time.

Additionally, a total of 579 Iowans have died of COVID-19, up 13 from the previous 24 hours.

As of June 4, Iowa also reported 314 patients hospitalized with COVID-19; 116 patients in intensive care units and 70 on ventilators. In the past 24 hours, 25 patients have been newly admitted, up from 15 newly admitted patients the previous 24 hours.

Deaths at long-term care facilities also continue to rise, with 289 reported as of June 4, up five from June 3. At the same time, 41 nursing home outbreaks have been reported in Iowa.

At the June 4 press conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati said the Iowa Department of Public Health is working on guidelines to allow families to visit nursing home residents again, after months of being closed to visitors.

Testing is among the factors to reopen the facilities to visitors, Pedati said, adding that the guidelines would be released later today.

Related: Deaths spike; Iowa hits another dark milestone in COVID-19 cases

Kitzmann said 924 Linn County residents have been tested through Test Iowa, with 921 of those conducted on or after May 6.

Of those, 24 had a positive result, or 2.6 percent; 17 had an inconclusive result or 1.84 percent; and 883 had a negative result or 95.56 percent.

Linn County Public Health considers all inconclusive test as positive results unless proven otherwise, she said.

Delayed results make prevention education about isolating and quarantine different for cases two weeks or older, but the department still identifies contacts to ensure they have fully recovered.

“Contact tracing and communicable disease follow-up is done on all COVID-19 positive cases, no matter how long after the test was collected or reported to us,” Kitzmann noted. “We still want to gather important information on signs and symptoms, along with who may have been exposed for all cases, no matter how old the positive test report is once it gets to LCPH.”

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