The Test Iowa program does not have sufficient tests for the West Des Moines School District due to high demand, said the superintendent on Thursday.
This comes as the delta variant of COVID-19 is gaining momentum in the state with less than two weeks before the start of the 2021-22 school year. Iowa’s 330 school districts had approximately 484,000 public school students in K-12 last school year. The West Des Moines district held a meeting Thursday for its Return to Learn plan when Superintendent Lisa Remy made the comment about the tests.
Test Iowa is the state’s primary screening program for COVID-19. It began in April 2020 as the pandemic started. The testing sites closed in July, but the program offers at-home tests, according to its website. Test Iowa is a partnership between the Iowa Department of Public Health and the State Hygienic Lab to provide free tests to Iowans, the site says.
“In times of high volume, as we are experiencing now, the wait time [to receive a test] will be increased,” IDPH spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand told IowaWatch. Gov. Kim Reynolds spokesperson also said there is high demand.
Of the 38,475 test kits that have been ordered since July 16, 4,914 (approximately 13%) have been activated. Ekstrand said the State Hygienic Lab is partnering with Iowa Prison Industries to put together the kits for shipment.
“We anticipate that Test Iowa will soon have up to 25,000 kits produced per week. This increase in production will significantly reduce the wait time for Iowans who have requested a kit”.
However Ekstrand didn’t say when that program would be operational.
Lack of test availability is a concern to lawmakers and educators.
On Tuesday, August 10, IDPH Director Kelly Garcia assured a group of Iowa legislators there are COVID-19 tests and funding for testing available to any school district in Iowa, said a lawmaker.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-District 22, was on the call with Garcia. Trone Garriott told IowaWatch she asked Garcia to explain how schools could get funding for testing. Garcia replied she was driving and she could not access the information, Trone Garriott said.
“I told her that the minute she stopped driving she needed to immediately send an email to every single superintendent informing them how to get test kits and how to get funding,” Trone-Garriott said. District 22 includes the Des Moines Independent, Van Meter, Waukee, West Des Moines districts.
Trone Garriott said she had not received communication from Garcia.
“None of the superintendents in my district know anything about funding for testing or how to get testing,” said Trone Garriott.
During a meeting of the Urban Education Network of Iowa, a consortium of Iowa’s largest school districts, Des Moines Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Shashank Aurora told IowaWatch this is a common refrain. “No one on the call was aware there was funding available to school districts for testing,” Aurora said.
The Return To Learn plan outlines how a school will approach COVID-19 mitigation and prevention if at all.
A law signed in May restricts public schools from effecting mask mandates. Education leaders are also required to hold in-person classes. Another new law would penalize superintendents who implement CDC guidance for school mitigation strategies – like quarantine for students exposed to a positive COVID individual – or if they close schools due to a COVID19 outbreak. Instead schools must follow IDPH guidelines, which considers COVID-19 as another “childhood illness,” despite it being a worldwide pandemic.
During a Polk County Public Health meeting last week, leaders said the rate of infection could have the state at November levels of hospitalizations by September.
State Senator Claire Celsi, D-District 21, who was on the Polk County Health Department call said the modeling didn’t take into account the potential spread from the Iowa State Fair.
“The Polk County Department of Health does a better job than IDPH,” Celsi told IowaWatch during a phone interview. She commended county health departments like Polk County that are working with to keep Iowans safe.
“Since the delta variant became prevalent, it’s clear that case counts are rising and parents are concerned about sending their unvaccinated children back to school without masks,” Celsi told IowaWatch via email.
IDPH did not reply to a request to comment on Polk County’s meeting.
“This [delta] is the biggest issue facing Iowans that no one is talking about,” said Trone Garriott, “We sacrificed so much last year and now it is so much worse.”
Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver did not respond by time of publication.
Andy Kopsa is a freelance writer and native Iowan who occasionally reports and writes for IowaWatch.