Last week’s announcement that all JBS employees could get tested for COVID-19 was a step in the right direction. Belated, certainly, but a good step nonetheless.
But much more is needed. There are several factors that go into understanding where Wapello County or anywhere else stand. The raw number of cases is one. But the rate at which those tests come back positive is also important.
While everyone knows the virus is considerably more widespread than testing shows, experts have said a rate of 10 percent or so is needed to give confidence that it is producing a reasonably accurate picture. Wapello County’s daily rate of positive tests hasn’t been below 25 percent in three weeks.
That leads to only one conclusion: There is simply not enough testing being done in Wapello County and it’s time to loosen restrictions on who gets tested.
The lack of sufficient testing is not the fault of local officials, who successfully sought a TestIowa drive-through testing location for Ottumwa. That fault lies at the feet of state and TestIowa. Even as testing showed large increases in the virus’ presence locally, the number of people actually being tested remained low. May 10 was Wapello County’s high so far, according to state data. Ninety-eight people were tested that day, and 47 percent were positive.
To most, that would have suggested an immediate need to increase testing locally. But that didn’t happen. The state’s approach has resulted in a clearer picture in some counties, but Wapello County is not among them.
We’ve had numerous calls and messages from people who went through the TestIowa screening and were denied tests despite the fact they or someone in their household showed symptoms of COVID-19. It’s difficult to evaluate how widespread the issue is. We only have these people’s words to go on and the state doesn’t release that data. But it’s enough to indicate a problem.
The state is fond of saying TestIowa is a resounding success. It has, undoubtedly, helped raise the number of tests being carried out in Iowa. But the number of completed assessments displayed so prominently on the state’s coronavirus website tells less than half the story.
In Wapello County, more than 4,200 people have taken the assessment. But the public has no idea how many of those people were referred for testing. Given that less than a third of that number have even been tested locally (and that people had been tested for almost a month prior to TestIowa even being announced), it’s not a large percentage.
The state needs to rethink its approach in southeast Iowa. It needs to re-evaluate the strictures that are guiding testing locally. It needs to open up testing to a greater number of people. That, and only that, can create an accurate picture of the situation locally.
At its most basic level, testing can save lives. Those who are unfortunate enough to develop severe cases know it. So does everyone around them. But we also know that most people don’t develop anything like the worst symptoms. Some don’t develop symptoms at all. Knowing your status with COVID guides your response. If you know you have it, you know you need to stay home. And that means you’re not spreading the virus.
Wapello County needs more testing. It’s not happening under the current rules. So it’s time to change the rules.