Reynolds: I’m ‘proud’ of progress made by Test Iowa program

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston on May 26, 2020. (Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/Pool, The Des Moines Register)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says her administration never promised that the controversial Test Iowa program would perform 3,000 tests for COVID-19 per day, but instead established that number as a goal for the program’s testing capacity.

Speaking at a news conference, Reynolds said Thursday that “while we have not yet hit our capacity of 3,000 tests in one day, I am proud that we are getting close. Our highest daily total to date is 2,356 tests. But it’s important to understand that 3,000 tests per day is our capacity; it’s the number of tests that we are ready and able to do in a single day.”

She said the number of tests actually performed hinges on the number of Iowans who schedule and receive tests — although she has previously acknowledged that some Iowans who are eligible for testing have had their applications denied, and others don’t have testing sites within an hour’s drive from their home.

“Some critics have replied that we have failed to keep our promise to testing 3,000 Iowans daily through Test Iowa,” Reynolds said, referring to the program run by a Utah company that is being paid $26 million to expand testing in Iowa. “That number was never a promise or a guarantee. It has been our capacity and we are ready. And I am confident that if Iowans want to use the system, we’ll hit that (goal) soon.”

In announcing the Test Iowa program on April 16, Reynolds said the program would “allow us to ramp up our capacity to over 3,000 tests per day in addition to the testing capacity that we currently have,” bringing the state’s total testing capacity to 5,000 per day.

At the time, Reynolds said expanding testing was a critical element in state’s response to COVID-19. But on May 21, while facing questions about why the Test Iowa program still hadn’t reached its capacity of 3,000 tests per day, Reynolds complained that “we get so hung up on testing.”

Reynolds was asked Thursday whether she thinks it’s appropriate for Tyson Foods, which is still facing COVID-19 outbreaks, to go back to its pre-pandemic absentee policies and reportedly telling workers they will face discipline for unexcused absences.

“Well, I’m not going to second-guess business decisions,” Reynolds said, adding that the state “will continue to be a partner” with companies and make sure they have the information, guidance and supplies they need to keep workers safe.

She declined to say whether she supports or opposes legislation that would provide corporations with immunity from lawsuits related to the pandemic.

Reynolds was asked about comments made Wednesday by Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, who suggested the Iowa Department of Public Health should be abolished for infringing on American freedoms. “This virus isn’t even killing anybody,” Shipley said, while denouncing “these un-elected bureaucrats, these self-congratulatory scientists.”

“I think I have said many times that words matter and we need to be careful and thoughtful about statements that are being made,” Reynolds said. “We just need to be careful about what we say.”

When asked whether she wants the Iowa Legislature to pass racial-justice legislation this session in response to the widespread protests triggered by the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, Reynolds referenced recent efforts at criminal-justice reform and restoring the voting rights of felons.

“We’re not going to fix this overnight, but we need to listen, we need to understand, and we need to demonstrate we are making progress along the way,” Reynolds said. “We need to continue the conversation and we need to continue to move forward and I look forward to helping facilitate that.”

When pressed for her stance on three specific racial-justice proposals —  such as banning choke holds by police, prohibiting the hiring of officers previously fired for misconduct, and allowing the attorney general to investigate allegations of police misconduct — Reynolds declined to give an opinion.

“This is the first that I have heard of them,” she said. “But I think the same thing that, you know, the mayor said yesterday, and all the mayors I have been talking to, statewide and collectively: We can get through this together. And that means sitting down, and that means having a conversation, and that means addressing issues that Iowans are concerned with.”

Reynolds said law enforcement officials in Iowa have done a good job of communicating with their communities. “We just need to keep talking and, more importantly probably, listening, and seeing what that looks like,” she said.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.