OTTUMWA — During Tuesday's weekly meeting, the Wapello County Board of Supervisors approved a second 13-week period of COVID-19 testing at the Test Iowa clinic site.
The 13-week period would begin the second week of January, and end either the last week of March or first week of April, depending on a rental agreement the county has to use the space at the current building at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond encouraged the supervisors to continue the service, which has been effective for not only Wapello County, but surrounding counties as well. The clinic has conducted more than 1,400 tests of county residents, and almost 900 combined from Mahaska, Davis and Jefferson counties.
"Our clinic is still full and it shows there is still a significant need," Richmond said, noting the clinic has seen a 20.4% positivity rate, which is slightly higher than the county's overall positivity rate. "There's still quite a bit of activity out there. People also will travel to get a test."
The cost to run a second 13-week period would be $144,248 for staffing, which includes a 40-hour week instead of 36, as public health director Lynelle Diers suggested; CARES Act funds of about $12,000 will cover building rental and cleaning of the clinic.
However, the county will have have to look for another staffing agency to provide nurses.
"Right now, the issue is staffing, kind of like it was at this point in the first 13 weeks," Richmond said. "We have one response, but hopefully they'll accept that offer in the next couple weeks."
Some figures about testing since the clinic opened Oct. 14:
• The clinic saw an enormous spike in tests conducted in November. For the three weeks from Nov. 18 to Dec. 4, the clinic conducted an average of 160 tests per week, with a one-day high of 194 Nov. 30.
• Seventy tests were conducted Nov. 13. On Nov. 18, there were 178, which started a run of 11 consecutive dates in which the total number topped 100, before falling to 81 on Dec. 11.
• The week of Dec. 14 to Dec. 18 saw an average of 89 tests conducted per date, the first time in over a month the average was less than 100.
Board chair Brian Morgan wondered if testing numbers would drop now that Pfizer and Moderna have both rolled out their vaccines.
"Do you think that because we now have a vaccine, that people will think this is over?" Morgan asked Richmond.
"I think that's a definite possibility," Richmond said. "Initially I think we thought the holidays would cause a spike, but what we've found through case investigation was parties. It was football gatherings, home gatherings. You get big family unit and they all spread the virus among themselves. It has a trickle-down effect."
According to government officials, a vaccine won't be available to the general public until the spring, at the earliest. There are phases in which vaccines are administered, starting with health care workers and the elderly.
"We have a lot of education yet to do, and I think people are waiting to see side effects will happen with the first group," Richmond said.
Supervisor Jerry Parker said Indian Hills Community College President Matt Thompson recommended the county continue its Test Iowa services, as the college has struggled to test consistently, and students and staff have gone to the Test Iowa clinic.
Richmond recalled a similar conversation with Thompson.
"They had a contractor doing their testing and had some staff illness," he said. "They were able to bring their barcode from their site to our Test Iowa site, and it worked flawlessly."
Both Parker and Morgan commended Richmond for his work in securing funding from multiple sources — CARES Act, the governor's office, FEMA and the Community Development Block Grant.
"It's been quite the process," Richmond said. "But we got there."
In other business:
• The supervisors used Zoom for the first time to conduct their meeting. The meeting was also live-streamed on the supervisors' YouTube channel and was available to view immediately after the meeting. Richmond has helped several area communities with installation and Zoom setup to conduct their meetings.
• The county approved the final reading of Chapter 36 of the Flood Plain Management Ordinance, making the chapter official.