Iowa COVID-19 cases surge as state sees backlog in processing tests

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave an update on the status of new COVID-19 cases in Iowa during a press conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston on May 1, 2020. (Photo by Bryon Houlgrave/Pool, The Des Moines Register)

Gov. Kim Reynolds apologized Friday to Iowans who have been waiting almost a week for COVID-19 test results through the state’s new, $26 million TestIowa program.

Also Friday, the state’s number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases more than doubled from the record level reported the previous day.

Part of the delay with the test results, she said, was that the new tests are still undergoing a validation process through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That news comes as businesses in 77 Iowa counties are reopening and church services and farmers markets are being permitted statewide. The decision to reopen was based in part on the expected availability of expanded testing that would allow the governor and others to react quickly to any outbreaks.

“For Iowans who are still waiting for their results, we are sorry for the delay but you will get your results this weekend,” Reynolds said at her daily news conference.

“I want to assure Iowans that this is a short-term issue while the lab is transitioning to accommodate not only a higher volume of tests on an ongoing basis but as they work through the validation of the TestIowa process,” she said.  “As with any new test, validation is a normal (part) of that process and it takes time and it is causing some delay of the Test Iowa results.”

Reynolds was asked if the state has a “Plan B” in case the tests cannot be validated. There have been media reports that questioned the accuracy of the tests being conducted in Utah by Nomi Health, the same contractor being used in Iowa.

Reynolds did not address the question of a backup plan but said, “We are confident they will be able to get that done.”

There’s also a backlog in the data-entry process that generates the daily reports of positive COVID-19 cases, Reynolds said.  She warned that because of the high number of tests that have been conducted, the state’s numbers of positive cases will also be higher than normal through the weekend.  “So please keep in mind that a high volume of tests conducted this week were among essential workers in communities or facilities where virus activity is high,” she said.

Friday’s report included 739 new positive COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. The highest number of cases previously reported was 302 new cases on Thursday.  As of Friday, Iowa has confirmed a total of 7,884 positive cases and 170 deaths.  So far, 45,593 Iowans have been tested and 2,899 who tested positive have recovered from the virus.