Iowa's auditor said Tuesday that a coronavirus testing program brought to the state under a $28 million no-bid contract by Gov. Kim Reynolds on recommendation from actor Ashton Kutcher is violating state law in the indirect way it handles test results data.
Auditor Rob Sand said his office reviewed the process and found that Test Iowa results first go to two Utah companies contracted to provide testing before heading to the state's chief information officer and then to the Iowa Department of Public Health. This four-step route violates a section of Iowa law that requires laboratories dealing with a reportable infectious disease to immediately report the case to the IDPH, Sand said.
Sand added that he investigated the reporting issue after receiving complaints from state and county level employees who claimed reporting delays could be negatively affecting the coronavirus pandemic response by hindering contact tracing and decision-making at both governmental and individual levels.
He said he didn't investigate to substantiate reports of delays but said he's continuing to look at aspects of the Test Iowa program.
Test Iowa was brought to the state under a $28 million contract with Nomi Health of Utah after Kutcher, an Iowa native and investor familiar with technology companies, recommended she look at the Test Utah program, which uses the same companies.
Sand said it's unclear why the Test Iowa results processed by the State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville, Iowa, first go to Qualtrics and then Domo— two other Utah-based companies contracted to help handle data as part of the Test Iowa contract— and then to the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer before finally reaching the Iowa Department of Public Health. He said he's asked that question of state officials and received no satisfactory response.
Sending the data to several different points not only violates the law but also creates pointless risk that it could be hacked and may be delaying the response of local officials to the spread of the virus, Sand noted. He also said it creates potential risk to taxpayers if someone sues the state for not following the reporting law.
“Each link in the chain is an area where the integrity, reliability, and timely transmission of information is put at unnecessary risk of error, equipment failure, maladministration, outright falsification, or any other cause,” he wrote in the report.
Sand said an attorney for IDPH responded to him that there is no delay and that the reporting methods meet the legal requirements of the law.
IDPH spokeswoman Amy McCoy echoed that in a statement Tuesday, saying the Iowa attorney general has affirmed the process as legal.
“Test Iowa has been a huge success for Iowans throughout the state, providing widespread access to testing and supporting the state’s contact tracing efforts. As the AG office has verified, every part of the Test Iowa reporting process is in accordance with Iowa Code,” she said.
Sand’s report recommends the state lab immediately begin reporting Test Iowa results to the IDPH, as the law requires.
Assistant Attorney General Heather Adams responded to Sand's investigation in a letter in May that said the time from test result to upload into the public health data system ranges from three hours to 10 hours. She said the attorney general's office concluded that the reporting is done “in a manner which complies with state code, including the Test Iowa results.”
In a news conference Tuesday, Reynolds defended the reporting process and the Test Iowa program.
“Our turnaround time puts other states to shame with the process that they’ve been able to put in place," she said.
Josh Lehman, a spokesman for the state-run laboratory, said creating a different method of reporting as suggested by Sand would cause inefficiencies. It would also require additional employees duplicating data entry for Test Iowa, which would slow down testing efforts, he said.
Sand responded that if that's true "then taxpayers probably should not have paid $26 million for that system,” he said.