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COVID-19 test results not reaching local health departments

Posted at 12:59 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 13:59:44-04

In most cases, a coronavirus test is processed in a matter of days, but Pottawattamie County's Director of Planning and Development Matt Wyant says it takes even longer for local health departments to find out.

"I'm not sure if they're reporting to the state or anybody. As far as jurisdiction go, they kind of sit at the top. So I don't know if they're just reporting their numbers up and not necessarily down," said Wyant.

Wyant says when people in his county take a test in Nebraska, it can take even longer, and in some cases, not at all.

"We did have a few individuals that came to us, who had informed us they had tested positive at the VA hospital, and we tried reaching out through the VA hospital and different contacts and submitting forms, but to get the test results back to go into the file was, we just weren't able to meet that criteria that was being set forth to us... so what we had done was took them for their word on it that they had tested positive and we added them it to our tracking system as well," said Wyant.

The Omaha VA Medical Center responded via email stating its policy is to report the results to whatever state health department the patient lives in. Wyant says his department never received that information for either state health department.

3 News Now Investigators spent weeks calling and emailing members of the state health departments in Iowa and Nebraska. Eventually, both responded via email stating all positive results are reported to the state health department the person lives in. From there, the state is supposed to notify the county health department the person resides in.

One person at the Iowa Department of Public Health told 3 News Now it's a manual process, which means there can be delays. That person said at most, it takes a few days, something that may not sound like a long time unless you're trying to contact trace.

"It's important to help us get those members into isolation that need to and notify the contacts that may have been in contact with those individuals," said Wyant.

Another important reason health departments need this information is to prevent the disease from spreading to others who may need to help the resident, like police, firefighters and EMTs. Pottawattamie County has a list of people infected with their addresses in officials are called to their home for an emergency.

Wyant says his department also needs this information to make sure the person infected understands what they need to do to prevent further spread.

Communication is key, but right now, Wyant says that is not happening and he's not the only one dealing with this issue.

"I reached out to a couple of the other health departments and asked if they were kind of seeing kind of the same thing. They had been kind of seeing the same thing. They were still trying to go through the paperwork to get through those results and hadn't been successful yet," said Wyant.

3 News Now emailed both the Iowa Department of Public Health and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for an email. Neither department has responded to those requests.

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