Opinion

More COVID-19 questions

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

As we continue on through this uncertain time with COVID-19, I receive a lot of questions. I am always happy to help sort through those issues on a case-by-case basis, but thought it might be helpful to include an update with the most frequently asked questions. 

What are we doing for additional testing? 

More testing for COVID is becoming available each day in the state. The Iowa Department of Public Health announced on-site testing at 13 rural locations in the state. The following locations received an Abbott rapid ID NOW machine:

• Veterans Memorial in Waukon

• Montgomery County Memorial Hospital in Red Oak

• Washington County Hospital in Washington

• Spencer Hospital in Spencer

• Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown

• Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa in Columbus City

• Ringgold County Hospital in Mount Ayr

• Kossuth Regional Health Center in Algona

• Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake

• Regional Medical Center in Manchester

• Clarke County Hospital in Osceola

• Boone County Hospital in Boone

• Buchanan County Health Center in Independence

These locations were selected based on having no nearby testing facilities and because their internal labs had the capability to handle infectious disease testing materials safely. In total, these locations received a combined supply of 2,500 testing cartridges. Abbott has sent the majority of its test to areas with large outbreaks, so Iowa is very fortunate to have supplies. As time goes on, more machines and supplies will become available, but in the meantime, these locations will likely have testing criteria to be able to utilize one of these rapid tests.

Additionally, the governor announced 900 rapid tests were sent to Louisa County and 1500 to Black Hawk County to monitor outbreaks in Tyson packing plants, as well as additional tests to nursing homes.

So schools will be closed for the rest of the year? 

Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education announced that all school districts and nonpublic schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year and will continue to offer continuous learning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This also includes the cancellation of spring sports activities.

The decision, is based on recommendations from the Iowa Department of Public Health to ensure the health and safety of Iowa students, teachers, school administrators and other school staff.

Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education also announced that the state of Iowa will:

• Waive instructional time requirements for the remainder of the 2019-20 regularly scheduled academic year for schools that continue to provide continuous learning through one of two approved options, voluntary educational enrichment opportunities, required educational services, or a combination of the two.

• Require schools to submit a "Return to Learn" plan to the Iowa Department of Education by July 1 outlining ways they will address disruptions to learning as a result of COVID-19. This could include summer school, enrichment activities or other opportunities to address the needs of learners.

• Waive the requirement that schools start no earlier than Aug. 23, allowing school districts and nonpublic schools to make local decisions about the length of their 2020-2021 academic year.

 

The governor had previously ordered schools to close through April 30. All of Iowa's 327 public school districts, as well as 179 nonpublic schools, currently offer continuous learning through one of the approved continuous learning options outlined above. Continuous learning encompasses a variety of approaches used to extend learning beyond brick and mortar buildings — online learning, e-learning, distance learning, including paper packets, and virtual learning.

School buildings will remain closed through the end of the school year except for approved meals site locations participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's summer food service program and those providing temporary emergency childcare.

An announcement on summer sports activities and when other school-sponsored activities can resume will be made by June 1.

For more information, visit the Iowa Department of Education's webpage, which is offering COVID-19 guidance.

Can I get more information on how the federal government is distributing CARES funds? 

A significant part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for states is the Coronavirus Relief Fund. This provides states and local governments with 500,000 or more residents with $150 billion in assistance to deal with the pandemic.

The CARES Act provides that in those states with cities or counties with populations of 500,000 or more, the state receives 55% of the funds and the local governments receive 45% based on a per capita distribution.  For those states like Iowa who do not have a city or county with populations over 500,000, the state receives the full amount.  For Iowa, that means $1.25 billion will be coming.

The question facing states is what the funds can actually be used for.  The language of the Act was very limited on this.  Treasury's website for the Coronavirus Relief Fund states:

 

The CARES Act requires that the payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund only be used to cover expenses that:

1. are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19);

2. were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the state or government; and

3. were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on Dec. 30.

 

It would appear that purchases of personal protective equipment, testing supplies, or overtime for staff working on a state's response to the pandemic would definitely fall within those guidelines.

One area that is clear is the fact that Congress did not provide state and local governments a mechanism to use the Coronavirus Relief Fund to simply backfill lost tax revenue. While some national organizations are trying to persuade administration officials to allow this use, such a change would require an act of Congress.

Congress did make it clear that they would be watching how states and local governments spend this money. They will have to keep very detailed records on how the funds were used, as the Treasury Department's Inspector General has been given wide authority to review and audit if necessary.