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The Trump administration is pulling back support for several federal coronavirus testing sites at the end of June even as cases spike in densely populated states like Texas and Florida.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that the 13 testing sites closing down relied on an “antiquated model” that no longer made sense for current coronavirus testing.
“We are not withdrawing federal support. We’re providing federal support in a different way,” HHS assistant secretary Admiral Brett P. Giroir told reporters on a press call Wednesday.
Administration officials also emphasized that the move was “in no way meant to decrease” the amount of COVID-related testing being conducted—potentially a reference to President Donald Trump’s recent controversial comments that he’d asked to “slow down the testing” as that would deflate the number of reported cases in the U.S. There have been nearly 2.4 million reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 122,000 American deaths to date, per the data collected by Johns Hopkins.
Giroir said the federal government’s approach had evolved following an initial emergency situation and dearth of testing. “It’ll be up to the governors and local officials,” he said, as well as public-private partnerships between pharmacy chains such as CVS and local governments. Federal support will shift from conducting testing sites to supporting more than 600 testing sites run by local leaders and businesses. He also emphasized that certain pharmacies providing testing services will still receive billions in HHS-provided funds in order to facilitate diagnostics.
But seven of the 13 testing sites losing funding are in Texas, which has seen sharp spikes in both positive COVID cases and hospitalizations. And the idea of turning power over to state and local authorities has been met with skepticism by regional lawmakers.
“Withdrawing support will place a heavy burden on the City of Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health, and their partners,” wrote a congressional delegation from Houston in a letter to HHS on Tuesday.
There are also broader technical issues with managing test results locally. In Austin, Texas, the reliance on fax machines by local health systems has reportedly extended waiting times.
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