Test Iowa audit says coronavirus test reporting process illegal and risky

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DES MOINES – The process of reporting coronavirus testing results under the $ 26 million Test Iowa initiative is illegal and creates opportunities for fraud and error, the auditor said on Tuesday.

Auditor Rob Sand, releasing his staff’s findings and speaking with reporters at a virtual press conference, expressed concern that the program’s reporting process is taking unnecessary time – placing officials in charge of state health ranks fourth for knowing positive virus test results and delaying contact tracers for hours of chasing others who have been exposed.

“The fact that we are currently in a pandemic, the number of cases is increasing and the importance of obtaining this information from a public health perspective is paramount,” said Sand. “We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks with pandemic-related data.”

Sand’s claims were challenged by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Iowa Board of Regents, who said requiring state lab officials to enter the data would take even longer. of time.

Nearly 36,000 Iowa residents have contracted the novel coronavirus and 756 Iowa residents have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to state public health data Tuesday afternoon.

In April, Governor Kim Reynolds announced that the state had entered into a non-competitive contract with a Utah-based company to expand Iowa’s virus testing capability.

Sand said the audit found that the results of the Test Iowa program are sent from the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa in Coralville to the Utah-based software companies Qualtrics and Domo, and then to the director of the information from Iowa, then finally to Iowa. Department of Public Health.

The lab and other vendors, however, are reporting test results from sources other than Test Iowa directly to state public health officials, he said.

“A number of things due to this long reporting chain can complicate or potentially end the ability of these results to reach the Department of Public Health and public health officials,” said Sand, who said have conducted the review at the request of county public health officials.

Sand recommended that Test Iowa results simultaneously be reported directly to the state’s public health department while also being sent to software companies and the state’s chief information officer.

A spokeswoman for the state’s public health department defended the Test Iowa program.

“Testing Iowa has been a huge success for Iowa residents statewide, providing widespread access to testing and supporting the state’s contact tracing efforts,” the department spokesperson said, Amy McCoy, in a statement.

Sand, a former deputy attorney general who was elected state auditor in 2018 as a Democrat, said the reporting process violates Iowa law, which requires health care providers or laboratories to report cases of infectious diseases “immediately” to state public health. department. He provided copies of the audit to law enforcement officials.

In a written response to Sand’s concerns, the state attorney general’s office wrote that the process for reporting Test Iowa results is automated and takes three to 10 hours. The office said the process was nonetheless in line with the public health department’s reporting procedures and the department considered the reporting process “timely.”

Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Lynn Hicks said the time frame “is on par or faster than reporting times for tests performed by hospitals and national reference laboratories.”

He also said the use of intermediaries in the electronic reporting process “is very common in electronic lab reports in Iowa and other states” and is in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. the United States.

“Using these common channels helps ensure that reported data is accurate, automated, protected and timely,” Hicks said in an email. “Implementing the auditor’s recommendations would require the state health lab to manually re-enter data from Test Iowa, resulting in increased lab load and reporting delays. “

A spokesperson for the board of trustees that oversees the state’s public universities also said a direct reporting requirement would create “huge inefficiencies” and require additional staff at the state lab.

“Overall, requiring additional and duplicate data entry for the Test Iowa program would result in fewer Iowans being tested and an overall slowdown in statewide COVID-19 testing efforts,” the report said. Regents spokesman Josh Lehman in an email.

Sand’s office responded to the pushback later Tuesday, saying the attorney general’s office has a duty to defend state agencies “regardless of their legality” and that while data integration engines are common, ” comparing them to totally separate private entities is like comparing apples to Bacons. “

“It should be noted that it is only now, after this review is complete, that some reason is provided for the long reporting chain despite our two requests,” Sand said in the afternoon statement. .

“If it’s true that changing Test Iowa’s reporting system to be legal would require manual data entry by public lab technicians, then taxpayers probably shouldn’t have paid $ 26 million for it. this system.”

Asked at a press conference Tuesday in Webster City about why the Iowa Test results are not being delivered directly to the state’s public health department, Reynolds highlighted the response from the attorney general’s office.

Sand said he was unable to determine how the state lab was tasked with giving test results first to private companies rather than the public.

His report found that “no documentation has been provided” of a state order establishing the process. “As (the State Hygienic Lab) reports being ordered to report in this manner and (the Iowa Department of Public Health) does not deny, this instruction must have been verbal,” he said. he said in a press release.

The Gazette also called for answers on the Test Iowa program when local officials and news reports began to express concerns about the accuracy and effectiveness of the test kits and equipment provided.

The newspaper, acting under the state’s open government archives act, in April requested a month of communication between the director of the state hygiene laboratory Michael Pentella and the public health department or the governor’s office regarding COVID-19 testing.

The UI, where the lab is located, asked The Gazette to pay $ 320 for the eight hours it estimated Pentella would take to produce the records.

When The Gazette raised concerns about a process that apparently required Pentella to do all the work himself to retrieve the records, UI officials suggested that The Gazette limit its request to just emails – allowing IT employees to step in and help.

In May, the university reported receiving requests for similar recordings from other news outlets across the country and suggested that the publications split an estimated fee of $ 300 for the recordings.

The Gazette accepted. But after two months, the UI did not provide the public records.

Vanessa Miller and Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed.

National Guard soldiers operate a checkpoint at the Test Iowa site at the Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center, 101 50th Ave. SW, at Cedar Rapids on May 7. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)


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