DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The state of Iowa is ending its coronavirus testing program next month saying demand has fallen for testing at the state-funded drive-thru and clinic sites.
“Demand for testing is at its lowest levels in more than a year since vaccine is now widely available and virus activity has significantly decreased,” Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said in a statement.
She said Iowa is finalizing plans to provide at-home test kits free to Iowa residents once the state test sites close on July 16 and more details will be released in the coming weeks.
Health care providers, pharmacies, and other retail testing sites will continue to offer tests, Ekstrand said.
In recent weeks Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signaled to residents that it’s time to return to normal as virus transmission is low, although the state still posts additional deaths weekly. As of Wednesday, 6,109 people had died. Some people are resistant to getting the the COVID-19 vaccine, and Fort Dodge infectious disease physician Dr. Megan Srinivas said she is concerned that state actions have signaled to Iowans that the pandemic is over.
“We have several community-based partners that have testing available and more easily accessible than the very limited Test Iowa sites, which is great. However, we need to ensure people realize that these options are there, and that testing and pandemic precautions are still extremely critical until we have a much higher vaccination rate,” she said.
Iowa is 20th in the nation for the percentage of adults age 18 and older fully vaccinated with 1.45 million people or 54.4%. As of Wednesday, 62.8% of adults have had at least one dose of vaccine, far short of Reynolds’ goal set in April when she said she wanted 75% of adults vaccinated by the end of June.
Iowa entered a contract with a Utah company in April 2020 after Reynolds said she received a tip from actor Ashton Kutcher, an Iowa native, about the Utah state testing program.
Reynolds signed a $26 million contract with startup company Nomi Health, which coordinated with two other Utah-based companies — Qualtrics, which provided software to help the state monitor the virus and determine where to put test sites, and Domo, which provided data about testing capacity, processing times and infection transmission.
The initial contract provided 540,000 tests, and the equipment and technology to run them. Iowa currently operates drive-thru Test Iowa sites in Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Des Moines and Davenport in addition to sites at clinics affiliated with medical providers.
Currently about 400 tests are done each day at the 17 drive-thru and clinic sites. Testing peaked on Nov. 23, 2020, when more than 6,700 individuals were tested on a single day.
Test Iowa was launched April 21, 2020, six weeks after the state identified its first positive COVID-19 cases. Since opening, nearly 644,000 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 at a Test Iowa site, making it Iowa’s top testing option, Ekstrand said.