DES MOINES — With the onset of colder weather and flu season in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday state officials are in the process of “winterizing” Test Iowa sites that help pandemic-weary Iowans confirm whether they have contracted the coronavirus.
Currently, Test Iowa “drive-through” sites are available in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Marshalltown, Storm Lake, Waterloo and West Des Moines.
Also, the governor said, state officials have partnered with health care providers for testing clinics in 15 counties: Black Hawk, Carroll, Cass, Crawford, Des Moines, Dickinson, Dubuque, Kossuth, Mitchell, Page, Plymouth, Pottawattamie, Story, Union and Wright.
Another 19 test sites are set up at community colleges, private colleges and state universities around the state.
The 3,000 Test Iowa samples are among the 5,000 processed daily at the State Hygienic Lab.
Michael Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Laboratory, said his facility — at the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville — is upgrading its equipment to allow for handling 6,000 tests a day by October.
“We’re fast approaching about 500,000 tests combined” in the two labs that have been processing COVID-19 tests and antibody results since March, Pentella said during Reynolds’ news conference.
“This pandemic is unprecedented and very demanding of laboratory resources,” he said. “We’ve been facing many challenges” after moving from a facility mostly testing well water and newborn disease screenings to a point player in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenges are likely to escalate in the coming months as Iowa combines testing for seasonal influenza and COVID-19 infections, Pentella said.
“We are committed to meeting the needs of the state,” he said. “We’ll do all that we can to perform the testing necessary to control this pandemic and protect the health and lives of Iowans.”
To that end, Reynolds said state Department of Transportation and Iowa National Guard officials are working with county emergency managers to identify alternate locations near current Test Iowa sites that can be “winter-proofed” to test a large number of people quickly and effectively, in much the same way the drive-through locations now do.
“We’re looking for sites that will allow us to continue drive-through sites for throughout the winter,” the governor said. “The goal is to have new sites secured in the next few weeks so that we stay ahead of the weather as much as possible.”
Reynolds also put out a plea for health care providers that wish to partner with the state to increase access to testing in rural communities and smaller Iowa towns as part of a long-term testing strategy.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health website Wednesday afternoon, nearly 714,000 Iowans had been tested since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Of those tests, 75,260 were positive for the virus, for a positivity rate of 10.7%. To date, 1,235 Iowans have died of COVID-19.