Health Care

Trump ‘not withdrawing support’ from COVID-19 testing sites, official says

The Trump administration is not abandoning federally funded coronavirus testing sites, the administration’s COVID-19 testing czar said Wednesday.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that even though the government will stop directly funding 13 community-based coronavirus testing sites, the amount of testing will not decrease and the sites should not lose resources.

“We are not withdrawing support,” Giroir said. “We are providing federal support in a different way.”

Giroir said the sites, which are located in Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado and Pennsylvania, will be supported by the $11 billion Congress allocated for testing and contact tracing, just like hundreds of other sites across the country.

“We have worked carefully to make sure that [the 13 sites] could sunset without losing any services to any people,” Giroir said.

Giroir said those 13 sites will remain open and will be operated by the states. He said governors were aware of the plan to transition to state control, which had been in place since April. 

“There is no reason that a locally unresponsive, bulky, parallel system needs to occur when the states could happily take these over, and they happily will,” Giroir said.

While the transition may have been planned, the move comes as the coronavirus is surging in Texas, especially in the Houston area. Hospitals are nearing capacity, and cases on Wednesday hit an all-time high.

Local officials have urged the administration to reconsider. 

David Persse, who leads the Houston Health Department, sent a letter to Deputy Surgeon General Erica Schwartz asking for federal support to continue through the end of August. 

“Losing the support of the federal government for testing sites will undoubtedly have catastrophic cascading consequences in the region’s ability to adequately test, quarantine and isolate, ultimately blunting the progression of COVID-19,” Persse said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said the city has limited resources and keeping the federal sites open will pull those resources away from other sites that also have to be open during the current surge. 

In Congress, Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) pushed back on the decision.

“It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not a time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,” Cornyn said.

The move also comes just days after President Trump said at a campaign rally that he told officials to slow down testing because an increase in the number of cases made the country look bad.

Giroir said there has never been an intention to decrease testing and that governors know that.

“Let me say definitively that we are moving to increase testing, both the number, the quantity and the targeting on social vulnerability, and we will continue to do that” Giroir said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established 41 community-based testing sites in coronavirus hot spots across the country in March, but the program has evolved since those initial sites opened, and now only 13 are remaining.

Those sites are now outdated, Giroir said. They were narrowly focused and operated when supplies were much more limited.

Giroir said there are now more than 600 testing sites in 48 states operating under a federal program that will reimburse retail pharmacies for providing tests.

The Trump administration originally announced in April that it would discontinue federal support for the remaining 13 community-based testing sites, but it was delayed after pushback from lawmakers.

Tags Brett Giroir CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus coronavirus case surge Donald Trump Houston John Cornyn

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