State may prop up rural COVID-19 tracing efforts

IDPH Deputy Director says state would have done more surveillance-type testing, but didn’t have the supplies


JOHNSTON – Officials with the Iowa Department of Public Health have indicated rural parts of the state may get help in contact tracing efforts associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.

During Gov. Kim Reynolds daily press conference Wednesday, IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter told pool reporters that officials realize some areas of the state have limited staffing and resources to do tracing and the state is in the process of trying to provide some help.

“Our local public health partners are fantastic, but in a lot of cases they have limited resources and staffing,” Reisetter said. “We’re looking at standing up additional contact tracing teams through the state for rural areas with limited access.”


Reynolds said the tracing is a critical component in helping identify hot spots across the state and target additional mitigation efforts where needed.

Reynolds said she would try to have more information on that on Thursday and would probably be including staffing from the Iowa Department of Human Services in forming some of those tracing teams.

Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross said contact tracing does not currently include tracing a positive persons complete footsteps.

“Our contact tracing does not include determining every place a person has been prior to when they become ill,” Ross said Monday.

“It includes working with a case and identifying that person’s close household contacts and continuing the investigation and education/instructions for isolation. We will not be notifying the public on any other details.”

Reynolds said an additional 900 tests are being sent to Columbus Junction to test more employees at the Tyson Foods plant located in the Louisa County town. She said despite the 86 positives confirmed in Sunday testing, Region 5 of the state’s Regional Medical Coordination Centers, still has an assessment rating of 8, the same rating it had last week.

Reisetter explained that the number of cases are just one factor in determining the assessment score.

“The other is the rate of hospitalization and we would need to see an increase in that. An increase in cases alone won’t cause that number to go up,” she said.

With Wednesday’s update, the state had 96 new positive cases bringing the state’s total to just under 2,000 at 1,995. No additional counties reported a first positive so the state still has positive tests in 82 of 99 counties.

The state had 407 negative tests yesterday and claims 908 individuals have recovered. There were four additional deaths in the state bringing the total to 53.

Reynolds said the IDPH has confirmed an additional outbreak at a long-term care facility in Muscatine County. Approximately 10% of all positive cases and 49% of the state’s deaths are associated with long-term care centers.

Lee County currently has two confirmed positives in the 61-80 range and no deaths. Henry County has 22 confirmed cases and one death. Des Moines County has seen seven confirmed cases and no deaths. Van Buren has five confirmed cases and Jefferson has four cases with neither county having a death.

Reynolds said the state is still expecting a peak in the next two to three weeks and the additional testing at meat packing facilities and long-term care centers could show an increase in positives in the near future, the state is still balancing metrics for mitigation, with metrics for reopening the state.

“Everybody should be making plans because at some point as we base decisions on data, we want to open up this economy,” Reynolds said.

“In northwest Iowa right now the numbers are really low and we’ll take a look at what it looks like up there, and what the criteria is, and start to apply that throughout the state.”

Reynolds said the state wants to get things up and going, but he said they have to do it responsibly and be cautious about moving forward.

“We don’t want to just flip the light switch and then have another spike happen in a week. that’s not going to be beneficial to anybody.”

Reisetter said other states are showing a four to six weeks from the time they put aggressive efforts in place.

“Our positive cases are leveling off, but that will change as we do targeted testing,” she said.

“That could increase our case counts, but as we do more testing we’ll find positives. But those might not be cases we would have otherwise found if they hadn’t gone to their doctors.”

Reisetter called that “surveillance-type testing” which is testing people who might not be showing symptoms otherwise, and might not appear ill.

“The reason we haven’t done widespread surveillance testing in our state is because we simply haven’t had the supplies to do that.”

Reisetter’s comments prompted Reynolds to take back the podium to clarify that surveillance testing is a piece of the picture, and the state hopes to do more of that and is anxious to update Iowans. But she said that doesn’t reflect everything.

“It’s an important part of the equation, but doesn’t reflect everything that’s happening.”

Reynolds said statistically 1 in every 160 Iowans has been tested.

“We can do more and we should do more, but I think that’s pretty good,” she said. “We’re making progress and testing more and we have been somewhat limited at the State Hygienic Lab, but we’re opening that up more.”

The lab currently has more than 3,000 tests available as of Tuesday.

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