Nebraska Officials Defend $27M Virus Testing Contract

Nebraska officials are defending the state’s $27 million contract with a Utah company to provide coronavirus testing services that some lawmakers have questioned because it was hastily arranged without taking bids. In early April, state labs were running short on testing supplies at the same time all states were trying to significantly increase testing for the virus, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. Doug Carlson, with the state’s Department of Administrative Services, told Nebraska lawmakers Monday the state was having trouble finding testing supplies from either federal agencies or private vendors until Nomi Health offered to step in.

Carlson said Nomi Health had partnered with other companies to set up a testing program in its home state of Utah and had the supplies and equipment to set up a similar program in Nebraska. So the state agreed to a no-bid contract to set up Test Nebraska and provide up to 540,000 tests over the next six months. Some state lawmakers have questioned the speed and lack of bidding on that contract.

Lawmakers approved a resolution that Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha introduced calling for a study of the Test Nebraska program to determine what changes, if any, might be needed before the contract could be renewed next year. Cavanaugh said she wondered why experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and local health departments weren’t consulted before Nomi Health was hired. “This all came together over a very short period of time,” Cavanaugh said.

So far, Test Nebraska has conducted more than 260,000 coronavirus tests, which is roughly half of all the tests done in the state. The program expects to have the capacity to do 6,000 tests per day soon after starting out with the capacity to do 150 tests a day. Carlson said Test Nebraska was the only option available that would have allowed the state to increase its testing so rapidly, so the regular bidding process that can take more than a year wasn’t an option.

The state’s health department on Tuesday reported 515 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths, raising the state’s case total since the pandemic started to 44,578 and its death toll to 472. Nebraska has one of the highest rates of new cases of any state. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in the state has risen over the past two weeks from 9.24% on Sept. 14 to 13.22% on Monday.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has also risen over the past two weeks, from 349.86 new cases per day on Sept. 14 to 425.71 new cases per day on Monday, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking project. The state said 37% of the Nebraska’s hospital beds, 34% of intensive care beds and 79% of the state’s ventilators remain available.