DES MOINES — Iowa’s largest public school system will offer drive-through COVID-19 tests starting next week, in an effort to counter rising virus infections since the governor discontinued a statewide testing program.
Des Moines Public Schools officials said Thursday that they have entered an agreement with Nomi Health to offer testing from Monday at two city locations. It’s the same Utah-based company that the state contracted with in April 2020 to provide Test Iowa services — widely available free tests at accessible drive-through locations.
Gov. Kim Reynolds discontinued that program on July 16, saying demand for testing was at its lowest in more than a year, vaccines were widely available and virus activity had decreased. The state instead made at-home test kits available; users must send samples to a laboratory and wait sometimes several days for results. COVID-19 tests also can be conducted by health care providers, pharmacies and other retail testing site. Iowans have since complained that testing is not convenient and results are slow.
Cases began climbing again in mid-July and continued to surge as the delta variant gained a foothold and vaccination hesitancy slowed efforts to stop high-level spread. COVID-19 cases climbed rapidly through August and September.
Iowa continues to see more than 1,500 cases a day and more than 600 people are currently in hospitals with COVID-19. The state has recorded more than 370 deaths since broad statewide testing stopped with a total death toll of 6,563.
Just 53.9% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said she’s heard from constituents and experienced herself the difficulty in finding testing facilities and long wait times for results.
She said it’s frustrating that Reynolds rejected $95 million in federal funding that could have been used for school tests so that parents would not have to have health insurance pay for them.
“Frankly, this is another example of the governor’s failed leadership on this issue. We should not still be struggling to find tests in September of 2021,” Konfrst said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health and Reynolds’ office did not immediately respond to messages.
Des Moines schools spokesman Phil Roeder said the district will incur only minimal costs related to the testing program; Nomi Health will either be reimbursed by an individual’s insurance or will submit a claim for federal health program grant funds for the uninsured.
Since the beginning of the school year, increasing numbers of schools have had coronavirus outbreaks. State data indicates that 24% of positive cases in the past week were children age 17 and younger, which would be more than 2,000 children infected in the past seven days.
Since the school year started, the Des Moines district has recorded 149 positive cases among staff and 654 among students.
The district will provide a priority access line for students, their families and staff, and a line for the general public.
“Our priority at DMPS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been to meet the educational needs of our students while doing everything we can to keep them and our staff healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Thomas Ahart.
The Sioux City school board voted Monday to purchase more than 7,000 rapid COVID-19 tests using $40,000 of federal emergency education funds.