Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
State to end COVID test reporting
County public health officials weigh in
DES MOINES — On April 1, Iowa will no longer require reports to the state’s public health division for positive COVID-19 tests, after a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Health said the data “no longer accurately reflects the prevalence of the virus in the state.”
The news release said the current COVID-19 dashboard site would be replaced by weekly reports of overall respiratory viruses, based on other forms of disease surveillance like hospitalization data and outbreak reports. Such reports already exist to track influenza, rhinovirus and other illnesses, and would incorporate COVID-19 data after the switch.
“It’s important for Iowans to know that the Public Health Division will monitor the virus, just as we do for other respiratory illnesses,” State Medical Director Dr. Robert Kruse said. “The Public Health Division will continue to work collaboratively with our local health departments, health care partners in the state, and partners at the federal level.”
Washington County Public Health Director Emily Tokheim said this meant top-level data on the disease would no longer be location-specific.
“Right now, we look at our numbers by-county … when the CDC releases their community transmission level reports, we see whether Washington County is low, medium, high status for COVID,” she said. “What’s going to change for that is it’s going to be statewide. We’re going to transition a lot more to looking at COVID how we look at flu.”
However, it would not drastically change the county’s response to the disease, according to Tokheim. She said the prevalence of at-home tests made state lab results an inaccurate snapshot of the pandemic.
“We’re really not capturing a true number, as it is, because the only numbers that are being reported are those tests that are being run through a state hygienic lab, or those that are being done at a doctor’s office,” she said. “But we know that so many other people take rapid COVID tests at home. So really, capturing a statewide COVID number is fine. I think that is a fine direction to go in because of the fact that the state is working on other surveillance methods … that are going to be more representative than the current reporting is.”
Henry County Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin agreed.
“If you take a home test and you’re not reporting it to anybody, then it makes it seem like it is no longer as prevalent in the community,” she said. “If 20 people do 20 home tests and they’re all positive but they don’t have to report them, this creates a false sense of security.”
“COVID hasn’t gone away,” she added.
“We do still have vaccines, and encourage people to take basic precautions like washing your hands and staying home when you’re sick,” Van Dorin said.
Jefferson County Public Health Administrator Chris Estle said this change will not affect public health’s response to COVID.
“Our last COVID-19 vaccine clinic was in December of 2022,” Estle said. “The vaccine is available at local pharmacies and JCHC.”
Furthermore, Estle added that this reporting to the state is not very helpful now anyway.
“There are many other respiratory-like illnesses, all of which have similar symptoms,” she said. “The recommendations have been in place prior to COVID: practice good hand washing, stay home when you are symptomatic, and limit contact with other individuals if you are not feeling well.”