Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have sent a letter to Trump administration officials asking them to extend federal support for seven community-based coronavirus testing sites past the June 30 deadline.
The administration announced it would no longer directly fund 13 testing sites nationwide. Seven of those sites are in Texas. The senators asked HHS and FEMA to continue funding the sites until they have a chance to organize alternative funding.
“Now is not the time to end a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity — especially for underserved communities in the state. Due to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas, cities need additional time to prepare for the transition to state and local control of the testing sites,” the senators wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor.
With the spike in positive test results in Texas, the two senators don’t think it’s a good idea to abandon testing sites at this time.
“Maintaining the CBTS sties is critical to Texas’ testing capacity. As the CBTS program is set to expire on June 30, I urge you to grant an extension of the program for the testing sites in Texas,” the senators wrote.
The lawmakers pointed out that Texas “is currently experiencing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases” and that “some of the state’s largest cities — where these CBTS sites are located — are experiencing single-day records of new cases.”
The administration is saying that they will support the testing sites “in a different way” besides direct funding.
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.
Cruz and Cornyn are rightly concerned about the time lag between ending direct federal government support and transitioning to state support with monies given to the states by Congress. The local governments involved are also concerned.
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.
The hysterical, anti-Trump media portrayed the sunsetting of direct support by the administration as Trump cutting testing in the middle of a pandemic. They tried to tie Trump’s comments in Tulsa about “slowing down testing” — which the White House claims was a “joke” — to the end of direct funding for the testing sites.
The problem there is that first, this policy has been in place for months. Second, it’s been administration policy from the start that states should be in charge of testing. And Congress appropriated $11 billion for just that purpose. The money will go directly to states to fund their testing efforts. There are no “cuts” or testing programs ending.
Don’t mention that to Chuck Schumer. He’ll blow a gasket.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader of the Senate, expressed alarm at the funding cut on Wednesday morning.
“Let me get this straight: cases are spiking across the country,” Schumer wrote on Twitter. “The admin has $14 billion for testing and tracing that they haven’t spent. But President Trump thinks the right move is to pull federal support for testing out of hotspot areas!?”
Soon, because of the spike in positive test results and an increase in hospitalizations, calls to shut down the economy again will begin. That will almost certainly not happen nationwide. But local shutdowns may be prudent as we try to get used to living our daily lives with this new disease.