COVID-19 Test Iowa site opens in Storm Lake, local strike team begins testing nursing homes

Friday, May 15, 2020
Preparations for the Test Iowa site began going into place Thursday at Storm Lake High School. / Pilot photo by Craig Shultz

Iowa include Des Moines, Sioux City, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Denison, Davenport and Ottumwa.

The site is open only to those who have taken an assessment survey and received a code indicating that they should be tested. Those with codes for testing can attend, regardless of where they live, by registering for a testing appointment. People can still take the survey at www.testiowa.com. Over 400,000 Iowans had taken the assessment in its first 23 days.

“The State lab is caught up on testing so results are coming back fairly quick,” Barritt said. “We have many people coming into BV County to work from all over. This is our chance to find those asymptomatic spreaders of the virus and get them to isolate to prevent further spread of the virus.”

The test site, managed by the National Guard, will be able to test up to 320 people per day.

“There are no questions or concerns about citizenship, immigration, etc. We just want people to be tested,” Barritt said. 

In announcing the Storm Lake test site, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said that test processing in the state has grown from 300 initially to 3,800 a day currently.

Reynolds said the state is deploying strike teams to communities where virus activity is increasing.

“Our state has mobilized with multiple partners and options to significantly expand testing and scale case investigation to track virus activity across the state” in hopes of targeting strategies to contain the spread, the governor said.

“For now we must learn to adjust life and business accordingly so we can live, work and play the way we want while continue to prioritize the health of Iowans and get the economy back on track.”

Although Reynolds noted that “COVID-19 is here to stay for a while,” phased in reopening continues. On Wednesday, she announced that salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and massage therapists would be allowed to reopen Friday with efforts like sanitizing and social distancing. In the 22 counties that have seen outbreak hot spots, businesses like gyms and restaurants have now been allowed to reopen. Bars and casinos would remain closed, Reynolds said. Other closures and prohibitions on gatherings of more than 10 people are extended through May 27, and no announcement about school summer sports is being made at this time.

Despite reopening, people over age 65 and at higher health risk should continue to stay at home, state officials said.

The first “strike team” nursing home testing was expected to take place Thursday and Friday at Methodist Manor in Storm Lake, planning to test 360 people in the two days. Two other facilities in the county, in Alta and Albert City, also will have testing.

“We made our own strike team,” Buena Vista County Public Health Coordinator Pam Bogue said. “We have administrators from several area counties coming in, along with Public Health staff and a little help from the hospital if needed.”

Tests are offered to all residents and staff. Staff tests are not mandatory at this time.

The state has seen COVID-19 outbreaks in 35 of 444 long-term care facilities, and 180 deaths. About 57 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in the state have been among residents of those facilities, despite mitigation attempts. The governor called the losses “heartbreaking.”

A mobile medical unit is also being opened next week at Tyson Foods in Storm Lake to support workers in both pork and turkey plants.

A peak has been reached in some areas of the state, and in others a peak is soon expected as testing increases, public health officials suggest. Reynolds felt that the burden on hospitals is stabilizing. “We will be okay. We will be able to manage and contain the spread moving forward.”

However, each region has a surge plan in place in case an additional spike is experienced, according to Reynolds. Deaths, as high as 18 in recent days, are “lagging indicator” of COVID-19 impact, she said.

In a news conference, the governor was asked about a federal health leader’s warning that reopening too soon could result in avoidable suffering and death, and set back an economic recovery.

Reynolds said she has full confidence in businesses to keep employees and customers safe. She cited a phased reopening in the state: “We didn’t just rip the Band-Aid off or flip a light switch.”

When asked why the state has stopped reporting daily numbers of new cases, Reynolds admitted the release of data is causing frustration, but said the focus in now on talking about recovery.

A Test Iowa site will be opened at Storm Lake High School parking lot starting at noon on Saturday, expected to continue through May 24. The site will be the eighth in the state. A strike team also began testing residents at Methodist Manor Thursday.

Buena Vista County saw a sharp jump in COVID-19 confirmed cases to date, from 45 earlier in the week to 74 as of Thursday. Eleven cases were considered recovered, no deaths had been reported, and one person was hospitalized at midweek. The county has the 17th highest rate of cases per capita in the state. In surrounding counties, O’Brien had 9 cases to date as of Thursday, Clay 8, Cherokee 3, Sac 2, Ida 1, Calhoun none.

The Storm Lake drive-through test site was requested by Buena Vista County Emergency Management Director Aimee Barritt. Other sites in Whether Iowa is reopening too soon is “a fine line to walk between economic impact and containing the spread,” says Buena Vista County Public Health Coordinator Pam Bogue.

“It looks like the eastern side of the state it’s leveling off and starting to look better, and its kind of coming over in our direction,” she said of northwest Iowa. “Hopefully some of our counties will remain at only a couple of cases. In reality, those of us with bigger industry are likely to see numbers going up.”

The local Public Health director said she is confident in the governor and Iowa Public Health leaders. “There are a lot of tough decisions to be made. I think a lot of what we do is an individual decision - businesses will have to decide if it is right for them to open right now or wait a while longer. If you don’t feel safe in your store or restaurant, I don’t know how you could expect your customers to feel safe. Even churches are different - my own church reopened for services right away when it was allowed, and some of the others in Storm Lake still have not.”

State buildings in Des Moines are expected to begin reopening Monday, and the legislature plans to resume June 3. Questioned about why state officials do not feel safe to resume work when many businesses were reopened by the state, Gov. Reynolds said, “Everybody has to feel comfortable in how they move forward with this.”

Bogue said Public Health has not yet determined the risk factor for another spike in COVID-19 next fall or winter.

“I don’t think anyone knows for sure. We need so much more testing, and we’re going to have a better idea if we get through the summer.” She said that at nursing homes, in addition to testing, health officials will be able to check for antibody build-up that will provide more information on how immunity takes place. “When we get a big percentage that have that testing, we will know better. We will probably have a vaccine eventually. A lot has happened here since our first case March 8.”

She too encourages continued efforts to protect people from contact as much as possible. “Don’t give up on that yet,” Bogue said.

Bogue reflects that historically, a pandemic occurs every 100 years. “If that is true, we were about two years overdue,” she said.

The outbreak has created a strain on local resources.

“We are a small agency, five nurses and myself,” Public Health’s Bogue said. “Somewhere down the line we have to decide how long can do all this ourselves, or if we have to ask the state for some help.”

Statewide, 13,675 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported as of Thursday. Over 6,000 patients had recovered, and 318 had died.

In the region, the hotspot is Sioux City - Woodbury County reports 742 cases and 14 deaths. Webster County (Fort Dodge) has one death, and Crawford County (Denison) is the only other county in the northwest part of the state that had reported a death as of Thursday.

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