WATERLOO — Out of the more than 7,000 people that have been tested for coronavirus so far in Black Hawk County, less than 12% have been from the Test Iowa site in Waterloo, one of eight such sites around the state Gov. Kim Reynolds has opened to increase the number of people tested.
Just 837 out of the county’s 7,074 tests have been done since the Test Iowa site at Crossroads Mall in Waterloo opened April 29, according to Lorie Glover, Black Hawk County’s emergency manager, who released the numbers Tuesday.
Of that number, seven tests in Black Hawk County have come back inconclusive, for an error rate of 0.8% — not much, but higher than the 0.2% error rate of all other coronavirus testing in the county, officials said.
One of those was Joe Sevcik of Cedar Falls, who was approved to get tested at the Test Iowa Waterloo site at Crossroads Center on April 29, the first day it opened to the public.
On May 3, Sevcik was told his test sample had been received, and he’d receive his results in 72 hours. But it wasn’t until May 13 — 15 days after his test — that Sevcik got an email letting him know that his test kit was among those that were damaged and unusable.
He was advised to retake the entire assessment at TestIowa.com, which he did, and then was told to “watch for follow up communication” about whether he’d get retested. As of Wednesday, he still hadn’t heard back.
“It has been over two weeks since they (very painfully) took my sample,” Sevcik wrote in an email to The Courier. “I am just flailing in the wind, and nobody at the state appears to care.”
When the state entered a partnership with Nomi Health, paying the Utah company $26 million — funded in part through federal block grant dollars from the CARES Act — Gov. Kim Reynolds said it meant the state would have the ability to test an additional 3,000 Iowans per day.
And Black Hawk County — which at the time had an outbreak at Tyson Fresh Meats — was exactly the kind of “hot spot” officials were looking to get more information on.
“The information collected is critical to better understand the virus activity across the state,” Reynolds said.
But the vast majority of those filling out the Test Iowa assessment are found to be not eligible for testing: Only 5.9% of all the county residents taking the assessment were sent to the Test Iowa Waterloo site.
That’s largely by design, as Reynolds has noted she wanted to prioritize “essential personnel” like health care workers, as well as those with direct contacts to those testing positive.
But the governor also said she’s looking to get the state’s “positivity rate,” or the percentage of people testing positive, down — the state was at 14.1% Wednesday. The World Health Organization has said a rate of 10% or less indicates an appropriate level of testing.
U.S. Reps. Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne and Dave Loebsack, all Democrats, pressed the Republican governor about the “capability and expansion plans of the Test Iowa coronavirus testing program” in a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday.
“We are concerned that Test Iowa still has not yielded 3,000 tests per day several weeks after its launch, nor are there Test Iowa locations in ‘hotspot’ areas,” the legislators wrote. “As our economy has begun to reopen, we know that Iowans will feel safer if they can access a test quickly and within their communities. We need to ensure that essential workers, nursing homes, and those who believe they have been exposed can get tests right away.”
The Test Iowa Waterloo site saw decent numbers when it first opened up — 113 people were tested April 29, 135 on April 30 and 116 on May 1, taking some of the burden off of clinics just as cases were peaking in Black Hawk County.
But cases dropped off sharply after that, hitting a low of just eight people driving through for a test on May 8, before rebounding into the 30s and 40s. In recent days, the site appears to be testing more individuals — 55 on May 14, 73 on May 15 and 125 on May 18.
To qualify for a test, residents have to fill out a TestIowa.com assessment, which mandates users provide their full name and address, date of birth, height in inches, weight, an email address and a cellphone number.
The questionnaire then asks people if they have symptoms of coronavirus, if they’ve been around someone who tested positive or have had respiratory symptoms in the last two weeks, if they have any underlying medical conditions, how many people of what ages live in their home, if they’ve been practicing social distancing and in what industry they work.
Those who qualify to be tested would then be emailed a QR code they can take to a mobile testing site.
Black Hawk County health director Dr. Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said when Test Iowa was unveiled, she was worried the process leaves out a lot of low-income individuals who may not have an email address or even the internet at home.
Individuals who don’t want to share private medical information, those who don’t speak English or undocumented people also may be uncomfortable or unwilling to answer invasive questions.
“The method in which they’ve communicated they’d do the testing is not really conducive for our community,” she said. “An individual would have to go online to answer a questionnaire and use a QR code, and some of our people don’t even have smartphones. You have to understand the community.”
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