The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics can now run its own coronavirus testing in-house. The director of clinical microbiology says the state’s largest hospital has the ability to meet the testing needs of all of its own COVID-19 patients.

Bradley Ford says the UIHC testing will not be available to the general public. “Just because testing is available, it doesn’t become, anyone who wants a test can get one, as much as we’d like that to be the case. That’s not where the nation is as a whole with respect to testing,” Ford explains.

Ford says testing is a key step in helping diagnose and treat hospitalized patients, and this testing frees up some of the testing needed for patients at other facilities. UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran says they’ve only had a handful of COVID-19 in-patients, but they’re working to potentially expand ICU and critical care capabilities.

He says hospitals are flying blind — with really no way to know what the demand will be. “The real unknown is how well are all the efforts that we have around social distancing around hand hygiene around staying at home these other things going to help flatten the curve,” Gunasekaran says.

Other hospitals across the state are also trying to prepare the best they can. At the Kossuth Regional Health Center, Joanne Roepke-Bode has been working on the problem for some time. “One of the biggest tasks we’ve taken on is preparing a space in our hospital just to see respiratory patients,” she says. Roepke-Bode is the public relations manager for the hospital, which like the majority of the state’s hospitals is considered critical access. This means it has just 25 beds and a small staff.

Roepke-Bode says the hospital has yet to see a COVID-19 case — but has started ordering extra personal protective equipment –like masks and gloves – and requested extra ventilators — none of which are guaranteed to arrive. “We do realize that just because requests are being made, doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get those things,” Roepke-Bode says. They’ve started asking the community for donations, and are getting extra gloves, extra masks from some of the science classrooms in the area from schools which are closed.

At the Clarke County Hospital in Osceola, spokesman Tom Bales says the hospital feels prepared — for now — with four or five ventilators. But he says they’re also trying to get more protective equipment on hand.  “Fortunately have a great materials guy who has not necessarily stockpiled but readied us for this situation, although we still are in need like most other hospitals are as well,” Bales. Bales says the hospital – which is also critical access – has put a lot of emphasis on community prevention efforts — like social distancing and hand washing. He says that’s because they need to limit the number of cases.

The latest numbers from the Iowa Department of Public Health show 23 Iowans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 out of 145 people who have been confirmed with positive tests.

(By Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio)