BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
JOHNSTON – Gov. Kim Reynolds said close to 121,000 Iowa residents have taken the Test Iowa coronavirus assessment in just two days since it started on Tuesday.
During her regular daily update from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Reynolds said the information from the assessment site is already providing state health officials with vital information on future testing and ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
“In just two days we’ve had more than 121K Iowans take the assessment. And we know testing appointments for this weekend are full. This tells me Iowans are ready to take the next steps,” Reynolds said.
“We know more Iowans qualify than there is testing available. We are not up to capacity yet, but after this week we’ll be able to ramp up.”
She said this Saturday’s first public testing site at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines is being considered a soft launch with close to 250 people scheduled to be tested at the site.
Reynolds said this will allow state health officials staffing the event to monitor logistics and prepare for opening more testing sites where needed. She said the will begin “operationalizing” the Test Iowa testing program next week.
Test Iowa, a private/public partnerships is based on a model created in Utah. Reynolds said a conversation she had with Iowa native Ashton Kutcher turned her attention toward the effort. Iowa health providers staff the sites, while testing supplies are provided through the partnership.
“Testing has been an issue throughout the process and we have been able to increase the testing, but when I learned about access to significantly more testing and more importantly the assessment piece, which was extremely important…I was very intrigued with the capability it provided.” Reynolds said.
Many people responded to the site indicating they were having trouble entering size and weight. Reynolds said the weight should be calculated by inches and logged as a numeral only. Weight should be listed as a pounds and a number only.
Reynolds outlined state testing numbers Thursday in a slightly different format. She said 29,262 Iowans have been tested for the coronavirus and 13% of those have tested positive compared to a national rate of 18.4% as of Wednesday.
The state did suffer six additional deaths bringing the total killed by the illness to 96.
There was one additional outbreak confirmed at Manor Care Health Services in Lynn County bringing the total outbreaks at long-term care facilities to 12.
Reynolds said state officials are looking hard at the April 30 expiration of her latest emergency declaration order and could provide additional details on any expansion of that on Friday.
“We might have some news tomorrow, but we’re still thinking about that,” she said.
With Reynolds repeatedly saying that reopening the state would be based on data and could be done regionally or even on a community-by-community basis in a responsible and safe manor, restaurant owners are worried about an influx of customers if only a few are opened.
She said she was holding a call with the Iowa Restaurant Owners association on Thursday to discuss options on what reopening would look like.
“They’ve sent recommendations and they can be a partner in reopening the restaurant industry in a responsible manner,” she said. “If we’ve got some hot spots we need to be mindful of what we’re looking at.”
But she said even as the state does start to reopen people need to keep in mind social distancing and be prepared for a gradual opening with people still doing what they need to help slow the spread.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury sent additional guidance on the CARES Act to Iowa Wednesday evening on how the state can utilize the $1.25 billion in aid the measure provided the state.
Reynolds said some of the money will be used to help pay some of the small business grants backlogged in that program, but said the money cannot be used to supplement local and state budgets.
With the state’s counties seeing sales tax and hotel/motel tax revenues dry up, Reynolds said the administration is trying to get more flexibility in the next round of stimulus funding.
“We’ll be sitting down with our teams and wading through this new guidance,” she said.
“But right now none of that money can be used to supplement budgets.”