Test Iowa mobile test site opens smoothly in SL

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Coronavirus emptied the parking lot at Storm Lake High School, and Coronavirus filled it.

The lot at the locked-down school was pressed into service over the weekend as the state’s eighth Test Iowa mobile test site, as positive COVID-19 cases in Buena Vista County climbed beyond 100. The unit is initially scheduled to operate through May 22.

Cars were already in line well over an hour before the testing began. Medical personnel assigned from around the state manned a large tent as two lines of cars worked their way through. Tests were done through the car windows for people who had taken the online Test Iowa assessment and been assigned a code indicating that they should be checked. The medical personnel were outfitted in white HAZMAT-type suits, complete with face shields.

A crew of Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen from the Sioux City region controlled the operation and assisted the medical people in testing, in the process potentially exposing themselves. They proudly mounted a banner to the tent, rushed to the site by the Iowa DOT.

“As the governor has said, ‘This is a case of Iowans helping Iowans,’” said Captain Sam Otto, a public information officer on the scene. “It is definitely something new and unexpected for us, but our training has prepared us,” he said. “We’re not specifically trained for medical deployment, but we are trained in logistics, and that’s what we are doing here. The environment doesn’t matter - our job is to respond when we are needed.”

Those being tested seem grateful for the opportunity and the people who make it possible, Otto said.

With many of the Guard and medical personnel working at multiple sites, they have the system down to a science. “It’s pretty efficient. We’re seeing tests conducted in under five minutes,” Capt. Otto explains.

One of the nurse supervisors on the scene Saturday noted that the work can be exhausting, “but it’s what we do.” She has worked test sites in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa and West Liberty since the program began last month, Buena Vista being the third county she has worked during the past week alone.

If there was a need for more motivation, the nurse supervisor said that a relative of hers has passed away with COVID-19.

She felt the nurses are well protected with personal gear and other precautions. “The state is taking good care of us,” she said.

Two military field tents were set up on the grass near the school so the medical and non-medical personnel can take take rest and water breaks if needed during the day, keeping the two groups of workers separated in hopes of avoiding risk of cross-contamination.

Another nurse, who was called in from a public health home care program in Omaha, is proud of the work being done. “It feels to be helping people in a really critical time - it is quite an experience,” she said.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how this situation affects our world. There are so many people sick and so many lives being lost,” she said. “My husband has been affected by Coronavirus, so I appreciate the opportunity to be involved.”

“It’s just part of nursing,” said another, responding from Des Moines. “Why would you choose to expose yourself? Because of your friends and family,” she said, noting the importance of slowing the spread.

Another of the medical personnel said, “There’s no hurry when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. Slow and steady wins this race.”

The Storm Lake testing site was planned to handle up to more than 300 vehicles per day. By later in the afternoon on the first day of testing Saturday, the operation was going smoothly, with no lines backed up. The Storm Lake Police mobile command center, and a State Patrol unit poised on Tornado Drive to back up the Guard.

On April 21, Governor Kim Reynolds announced the Test Iowa program would be able to test 3,000 people per day at mobile sites around the state, a goal the program is still struggling to meet. Reynolds has continued her push to reopen the economy since then.

The testing got off to a rocky start in Iowa. Several of those tested at the first site in Des Moines on April 25 had to wait more than a week to receive results. Others reported that their results were inconclusive or that their samples were damaged and they had to be retested. Some found no appointments available, and some of the sites only saw a few dozen people per day.

Reynolds on Thursday acknowledged there had been some hiccups in the Test Iowa program. With test validation now complete through the State Hygienic Lab, she expected the rate of testing would pick up.

Those working the test site in Storm Lake felt that many of the earlier problems have now been worked out. A sign outside the testing tent at SLHS promised results texted or emailed within 72 hours.

As of Sunday, over 414,000 people had taken the assessment in Iowa, according to the state.

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