A screenshot of TestNebraska's homepage on April 21, 2020.
A screenshot of TestNebraska’s homepage on April 21, 2020.

Following weeks of lackluster coronavirus testing in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a new initiative Tuesday afternoon that would increase capacity from between 600 to 800 a day to at least 3,000 five weeks from now.

A new web tool will facilitate these tests by asking Nebraskans a series of questions to evaluate their risk and assess their need for testing. The app, called TestNebraska, will also provide those individuals with “accurate, evidence-based information on COVID-19,” as well as state health and government officials “insight into our collective health.”

Sensitive health data will stay with the state, Ricketts said. Testing will be administered by the state.

The first version of the app was implemented in Utah earlier this month as a partnership between the state and a nonprofit that represents a consortium of tech companies. Iowa and Nebraska followed today.

Ricketts did not say how much the program would cost on Tuesday.

Not everyone will be able to receive testing. Information on TestNebraska’s website echoes current CDC standards by stating it will prioritize “those who currently have symptoms, have interacted with someone who has already tested positive, or have recently visited places where COVID-19 is more widespread.” Those deemed necessary to take a test will be given a time slot to use a drive-thru testing location.

At his daily coronavirus press conference, Ricketts said anybody who wants a test will get one eventually, but only after the most susceptible receive them. The state will perform assessments over the next 10 days. After that its capacity must reach 3,000 tests per day, the governor said.

The web app and testing increases are the result of a new partnership with nonprofit Silicon Slopes, a group of tech companies based in Utah. On April 3 it launched TestUtah, which it had developed with the state’s health department.

By last Friday, the app was responsible for 14% of the state’s total tests—8,143 tests out of 55,771.

In Utah, the web tool uses an algorithm to select who should receive tests based on the state’s criteria. It has also worked internationally to secure test kits and personal protective equipment.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the original version of the web tool is operated by Utah-based companies Nomi Health, Domo and Qualtrics. The state has ownership over any health data shared through the app, however.

Information on TestNebraska’s website say the web tool is a “new initiative in partnership with our state leaders and private corporations.”

Low testing capacity has been a challenge across the nation since the pandemic’s entrance to the United States. The problem has limited officials knowledge of the virus’ impact on their communities as well as their abilities to respond. It’s also provided a roadblock to any return to normal as adequate testing is seen as a necessary step toward reopening state economies and society in general.

To make that point clear, TestNebraska officials want people to share that they’ve taken the assessment and what activities they want to return to. Several people on Twitter are already posting with “ sharing that they’ve taken the assessment and what they activities they want to get back to doing.

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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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