UIHC prepares for coronavirus response, cautions against spreading misinformation

With an increase in coronavirus testing kits and reactionary procedures in place, medical and university officials say UIHC is ready for a potential outbreak in Iowa.


Ryan Adams

Associate Provost and Dean of International Programs Russ Ganim speaks during a media availability event at the IMU on March 4, 2020. The University of Iowa officials spoke to reporters about the UI’s actions regarding coronavirus. (Ryan Adams/The Daily Iowan)

Charles Peckman, Senior Reporter

The State Hygienic Laboratory based on the University of Iowa campus was slated to receive another shipment of kits to test for novel coronavirus on Wednesday, the lab’s director told reporters, adding to the roughly 250 test kits already on hand at the site.

The lab shared Feb. 27 it was prepared to test for COVID-19 using materials provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upon the Iowa Department of Public Health’s request. So far in Iowa, tests of seven people have been negative and one person’s results are pending.

Lab Director Michael Pentella said the lab is prepared to administer the test whenever it’s needed, adding that it takes five hours to complete the technically challenging test.

“We prepare for emergencies as our colleagues do and part of our preparation is that we connect with every clinical lab in the state,” he said. “We are connected electronically and report results to the CDC.”

University and medical officials are seeking to assure the Hawkeye community that procedures are in place to test and treat the 2019 novel coronavirus amid concerns from health experts, government officials, and the public about mitigating its spread.

UI Hospitals and Clinics Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said her team is working diligently to ensure the UI is prepared if a case of the virus is reported in Iowa. 

“Although that gives us great comfort, we at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics feel that being prepared is the most important thing,” Brennan said. “We have robust plans in place to deal with how we take care of patients and how we protect our staff.”

In addition to these robust plans, Brennan said, UIHC has a longstanding vital urgency-response team that convenes every time an infectious-disease concern comes to its attention. The team, she added, is composed of professionals from throughout the hospital and has met since January when concerns about the virus became more widespread.

“The disease is changing rapidly, and that is a challenge for all of us … but we daily have a situational report of what’s going on in the nation, in Iowa, and in the world,” she said. “We meet on a regular basis and we’re looking forward — three or four steps down the road — to make sure that we’re covering everything that could come.”

Ryan Adams
Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rob Lehnertz speaks during a media availability event at the IMU on March 4, 2020. The University of Iowa officials spoke to reporters about the UI’s actions regarding coronavirus.

Brennan said she appreciates partnerships with the State Hygienic Lab, Johnson County Public Health Department, and the CDC. As key players from across the UI medical professionals learn more information, Brennan said those facts will be shared with the public.

As the public continues to become educated on the virus and preventive measures against it, UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz said he is cautioning members of the UI community against engaging in speculation and fear-mongering on social media.

“In events like this, with social media, there are risks of misinformation and rumors,” he said. “We again want to encourage anyone who has questions regarding the status or directions we are taking to go to our website … we will keep updated information and the latest we have for our community.”

As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, 11 have died from the virus across the U.S. Key lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate reached a deal this week to distribute $8.3 billion in emergency aid; the House voted to approve the measure on Wednesday and the Senate will take it up on Thursday.